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Translated from the French by J. ELLARD GORE, F.R.A.S. 
With 3 Plates and 288 Illustrations. 

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HI. THE FLASH AND THE SOUND ... ... ... 31 

IV. FIREBALLS ... ... ... ... 57 




HOUSES, ETC. ... ... ... ... 188 






IT would be an interesting thing to make a careful 
study once a year, towards the end of the summer, 
of the habits and customs of thunder and lightning. 
Perhaps in this way we should succeed one day in 
determining the still mysterious nature of these elusive 
forces. I, for my part, have been engaged upon the 
task for many years past. It has produced a big 
accumulation of records, and in this volume I can 
find room but for a resume of them, as varied as 
possible. In my first chapter I shall present a few 
characteristic examples, just to give my readers some 
hint of this variety. 

Not to go too far back, let us begin with a harmless 
I might almost say playful fireball performance, 
of which M. Schnaufer, Professor at Marseilles, has 
given me the particulars. 

In October, 1898, the fireball in question made 
1 B 


its appearance in a room and advanced towards a 
young girl who was seated at the table, her feet 
hanging down without touching the floor. The 
luminous globe moved along the floor in the girl's 
direction, began to rise quite near her and then round 
and round her, spiral fashion, darted off towards a 
hole in the chimney a hole made for the stove-pipe, 
and closed up with glued paper made its way up 
the chimney, and, on emerging into the open air, 
gave out upon the roof an appalling crash which 
shook the entire house. It was a case of coming in 
like a lamb and going out like a lion ! 

A similar occurrence is recorded as having been 
observed in Paris, on July 5, 1852, in a tailor's room, 
including the same curious detail of the departure 
through the hole in the chimney, closed up with paper. 

It was in the Rue Saint Jacques, near the Val 
de Grace. The fireball burst into the room from 
the chimney, knocking over the paper guard in front 
of the fireplace. In appearance it suggested a young 
cat, gathered up into a ball, as it were, and moving 
along without using its paws. It approached the tailor's 
legs as though to play with them. The tailor moved 
them away to avoid the contact, of which he naturally 
was in terror. After some seconds, the globe of fire 
rose vertically to the height of the man's face as he 
sat, and he, to save himself, leaned quickly back and 


fell over. The fireball continued to rise, and made 
its way towards a hole which had been made at the 
top of the chimney for the insertion of a stove-pipe 
in the winter, but which, as the tailor put it after- 
wards, "the fireball couldn't see, 11 because it was 
closed up with paper. The ball stripped off the paper 
neatly, entered the chimney quite quietly, and having 
risen to the summit, produced a tremendous explosion, 
which sent the chimney-top flying, and scattered it 
in bits all over the neighbouring courtyard and sur- 
rounding roofs. 

There we have a unique occurrence, recorded for 
us by Babinet and Arago, and of which I have given 
here the exact particulars. In both these cases we have 
to note the attraction of the hole in the chimney and 
the explosion of the thunderbolt on getting to the 
top. But it is not easy to detect the law underlying 
these phenomena. 

In one of the latest volumes of the Association 
Francaise a somewhat similar case is dealt with. 

"A violent storm," says the writer, M. Wander, 
" had descended upon the commune of Beugnon (Deux- 
Sevres). I happened to be passing through a farm, 
in which were two children of about twelve and 
thirteen. These children were taking refuge from the 
rain under the door of a stable, in which were twenty- 
five oxen. In front of them extended a courtyard, 


sloping downwards towards a large pond, twenty or 
thirty yards away, beside which grew a poplar-tree. 
Suddenly there appeared a globe of fire, of the size 
of an apple, near the top of the poplar. We saw it 
descend, branch by branch, and then down the trunk. 
It moved along the courtyard very slowly, seeming 
almost to pick its way between the pools of water, 
and came up to the door where stood the children. 
One of them was bold enough to touch it with his 
foot. Immediately a terrible crash shook the entire 
farm to its foundations, the two children were thrown 
to the ground uninjured, but eleven of the animals 
in the stable were killed ! " 

Who is to explain these anomalies? The child 
who touched the fireball escapes with a fright, and 
a few feet behind him eleven animals out of twenty- 
five perish on the spot ! 

During the storm which broke out at the town 
of Gray, on July 7, 1886, my friend M. Vannesson, 
President of the Tribunal, saw a fireball of from thirty 
to forty centimetres in diameter, which exploded on 
the corner of a roof, cutting clean off the end portion 
of the central beam to the length of about half a 
yard (like a bundle of matches, but without setting 
it on fire), scattering the splinters over the upper 
story and loosening the plaster upon the walls below. 
It then rebounded on the roofing of a little outside 


staircase, made a hole in it, smashing and sending 
flying the slates, came down upon the road, and rolling 
right in the midst of some passers-by who, like the 
child in the farm, escaped with a fright disappeared. 

My learned fellow-member of the Astronomical 
Society of France, Dr. Bougon, has discovered an 
account of one of the most remarkable fireballs ever 
recorded in La Gloire des Confesseurs, a work written 
by Gregory of Tours, the twentieth bishop of that 

On the dedication day of an oratory which he had 
constructed in one of the outer buildings of the 
episcopal palace, all the participants in the procession 
from the cathedral, while approaching the oratory 
with the sacred relics and singing the litanies, saw 
a globe of fire, so intensely brilliant that their eyes 
were dazzled, and they could scarcely keep them open. 
Seized with terror, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, 
choristers, together with the distinguished citizens of 
the town, who were carrying the relics upon their 
shoulders, all with one accord threw themselves on the 
ground, face downward. Then Gregory, remembering 
that on the occasion of the death of St. Martin, some 
of whose bones were among the relics being carried 
from the cathedral, a globe of fire was said to have 
been observed to leave the saint's head and ascend 
heavenwards, believed himself to be in the presence 


of a miracle, vouchsafed as evidence at once of St. 
Martin's sanctity and the genuineness of his relics. 
This globe of fire did no damage and burnt nothing. 
Discurrebat autem per totam cellulam^ TANQUAM FULGUR, 
globus igneus. 

There is to be seen at the Louvre a picture by 
Eustache Lesueur, entitled "La Messe de Saint 
Martin," which seemed to me at first to illustrate this 
narrative, but the spectators are shown in silent 
wonder instead of being prostrated as in the story. 
Moreover, Gregory of Tours tells us in his life of 
St. Martin, that one day during Mass a globe of fire 
was seen to appear above the head of the bishop, 
and then to rise heavenwards, to the great edification 
of the devout. It was this " miracle, 11 evidently, that 
Lesueur intended to represent. 

Here is another case of a remarkably harmless 
fireball which is often cited. 

The Abbe Spallanzani it is who tells the story. 
On August 29, 1791, a young peasant woman was 
in a field during a storm, when suddenly there appeared 
at her feet a globe of fire of about the size of a billiard 
ball. Slipping along the ground, this little fireball 
reached her feet, caressed them, as it were, made its 
way up under her clothes, and issued again from the 
middle of her bodice, and, still keeping its globular 
form, darted off into the air and exploded noisily. 


When it got under her petticoats, they blew out like 
an umbrella, and she fell back. Two witnesses of the 
scene ran to her assistance, but she was unhurt. A 
medical examination revealed only a slight erosion of 
the skin, extending from the right knee to the middle 
of her breast ; her chemise had been torn in two along 
the same line, and there was a hole through her bodice 
where the thunderbolt had got out. 

In the " Memoirs of Du Bellay " the following 
very curious narrative is to be found. In all pro- 
bability it is a fireball that is in question : 

" On March 3, 1557, Diane of France, illegitimate 
daughter of Henri II., then the Dauphin, married 
Fra^ois de Montmorency. On the night of their 
wedding, an oscillating flame came into their bedroom 
through the window, went from corner to corner, and 
finally to the nuptial bed, where it burnt Diane's hair 
and night attire. It did them no other harm, but 
their terror can be imagined. 1 ' 

Perhaps it may be as well to take with a pinch of 
salt the statement that the lady's attire was burnt in 
this way without harm to her person, yet there are 
other authentic stories of a similar kind almost as 

In 1897, at Linguy (Eure-et-Loire), a man and his 
wife were sleeping quietly, when suddenly a terrible 
crash made them jump out of bed. They thought 


their last hour had come. The chimney, broken to 
pieces, had fallen in and its wreckage filled the room, 
the gable-end was put out and the roof threatened to 
come down. The effects of the thunderbolt in the 
room itself were less alarming than its effects outside, 
but were very curious. For instance, bricks from one 
wall had been dashed horizontally against the wall 
opposite, with such extraordinary force that they were 
to be seen imbedded in it up above a dresser upon which 
pots and pans, etc., were ranged, and within a few inches 
of the ceiling, while the windows of the room had been 
smashed into bits, and a looking-glass, detached from 
the wall, stood on end whole and entire upon the floor, 
delicately balanced. A chair near the bed, upon which 
articles of clothing had been placed, had been spirited 
away to a spot near the door. A small lamp and a 
box of matches were to be found undamaged upon the 
floor. An old gun, suspended from a beam, was 
violently shaken and had lost its ramrod. 

The thunderbolt actually frolicked over the bed, 
leaving its occupants more dead than alive from terror 
but quite unhurt. It passed within a few inches of 
their heads and passed through a fissure in a partition 
into an adjoining dairy, where it carried a whole row of 
milk-cans, full of milk, from one side of the room to 
another, breaking the lids but not upsetting a single 
can. It broke four plates out of a pile of a dozen, 


leaving the remaining eight intact. It carried away 
the tap from a small barrel of wine, which emptied 
itself in consequence. 

It ended by passing out through the window 
without further breakage, leaving the husband and 
wife unscathed but panic-stricken. 

One of the strangest tricks to which lightning is 
addicted is that of undressing its victims. It displays 
much more skill and cleverness in such diversions than 
is to be found in animals or even in many human 

Here is one of the most curious instances of this on 
record, as narrated by Morand : 

" A woman in man's costume. A storm suddenly 
comes on. A flash of lightning strikes her, carries off 
and destroys her clothes and boots. She is left stark 
naked, and she has to be wrapped up in a cloth and 
taken thus to the neighbouring village." 

In 1898, at Courcelles-les-Sens, Miles. Philomene 
Escalbert, aged 19, Adele Delauffre, aged 22, and 
Madame L6onie Legere, aged 44, were standing round 
a reaping-machine, when a flash of lightning struck 
Madame Legere and killed her on the spot. The two 
young girls were stripped to the skin, even their boots 
being torn from their feet. Otherwise they were left 
safe and sound and astonished. 

On October 1, 1868, seven persons took refuge 


during a storm under a huge ash-tree near the village 
of Bonello, in the Commune of Ferret (C6tes-du-Nord), 
when suddenly the tree was struck by lightning, and 
one of them a woman was killed. The six others 
were knocked to the ground without being seriously 
damaged. The clothes of the woman who had been 
killed were torn into shreds, many of which were found 
clinging to the branches of the tree. 

On May 11, 1869, a farmer at Ardillats was tilling 
the ground with his two oxen, not far from his 
dwelling-place, about four in the afternoon. The air 
was close and heavy, and the sky covered with black 
clouds. Suddenly there was a great thunderclap, and 
a flash of lightning struck both man and beasts dead 
on the spot. The man was found stripped to the skin, 
and his boots had been carried thirty yards away. 

In July, 1896, at Epervans (Saone-et-Loire), a 
young man named Petiot, who was mowing in a 
meadow, was struck dead by lightning while lighting 
a cigarette, and left in a state of complete nakedness. 

On August 11, 1855, a man was struck by lightning 
near Vallerois (Haute-Saone), and stripped naked. All 
that could be found afterwards of his clothes was a 
shirt-sleeve, a few other shreds, and some pieces of his 
hobnailed boots. Ten minutes after he was struck he 
regained consciousness, opened his eyes, complained of 
the cold, and inquired how he happened to be naked. 


There is no telling what lightning will not do. 

Sometimes it will snatch things out of your hand 
and carry them right away. 

There is a case of a mug being thus spirited away 
from a man, who had just been drinking out of it, 
and deposited undamaged in a courtyard near the 
man himself suffering no injury. A youth of eighteen, 
holding up a missal from which he is singing, has it 
torn out of his hands and destroyed. A whip is 
whisked out of a rider's hand. Two ladies, quietly 
knitting, have their knitting-needles stolen. A girl 
was sitting at her sewing-machine, a pair of scissors in 
her hand ; a flash of lightning, and her scissors are gone 
and she is sitting on the sewing-machine. A farmer's 
labourer is carrying a pitchfork on his shoulder ; the 
lightning seizes it, carries it off fifty yards or so, and 
twists its two prongs into corkscrews. 

On July 22, 1878, at Gien (Nievre), a woman while 
sprinkling her house with holy water during a storm, 
saw her holy-water bottle smashed actually in her 
fingers by the lightning, which at the same time 
smashed up the tiled pavement of the room. 

In a church at Dance (Loire) during vespers, one 
day in June, 1866, a flash of lightning killed the priest 
and all the congregation, knocked over the monstrance 
on the altar, and buried the Host in a heap of debris. 

On June 28, 1885, the cupola of the Javisy 


Observatory, which was not then provided with a 
lightning conductor, was struck by lightning. An 
enormous piece of oak from un angle de construction 
was torn to shreds, and one splinter was lodged in 
the hinge of a window behind the pivot, in the part 
between the pivot and the frame, hardly a twenty-fifth 
of an inch apart, and this without breaking the glass. 

In other cases lightning has been known to split 
men in two, almost as with a huge axe. On January 
20, 1868, this happened to a miller's assistant in a 
windmill at Groix. The lightning struck him, and 
split him from his head downwards in two. 

In the course of July, 1844, four inhabitants of 
Heiltz-le-Maurupt, near Vitry-le-Franpoise, took refuge 
under trees during a storm, three of them under a 
poplar, and the fourth under a willow, against which 
doubtless he leaned. In a few minutes this one was 
struck by lightning. A bright flame was observed to 
be issuing from his clothes, but he remained standing, 
and seemed unconscious of what had happened. 
" You're on fire ! You're on fire ! " exclaimed his 
friends. Getting no reply, they went up to where he 
was, and found to their horror that he was a corpse. 

A clergyman named Butler was a witness of the 
following incident, which took place at Everdon. Ten 
harvest-men took refuge under a lodge on the approach 
of a storm. There was a thunderclap, and in a moment 


four of them were killed by lightning. One of them 
was found dead, still holding between finger and thumb 
a pinch of snuff he had been in the act of taking. A 
second had one hand upon the head of a small dog, also 
killed, and still sitting upon his knees, and in the other 
hand a piece of bread ; a third was sitting, his eyes 
open, facing in the direction from which the storm 

At Castellane, in August, 1898, during a violent 
storm, a flock of sheep was struck by lightning while 
crossing the mountain of Peyresy. Seventy-five of 
them were killed. The shepherd escaped. The sheep 
probably were all wet from the rain, and clinging 
together in one great mass. In the same month a 
pond at Vauxdimes (Cote-d'Or) was demolished, and all 
the fish in it killed. 

Quite recently, a young man at Franxault (Cote- 
d'Or) was killed by lightning on his way home from 
work. All the nails were found to have been torn out 
of his shoes, and the links of his silver watch-chain 
were all moulded together. To fuse silver in this way 
a heat of 957 degrees is needed ! 

On July 5, 1883, at Buffon (C6te-d 1 Or), a woman 
had one of her earrings melted in the same way, but she 
was not killed. On the same day at Void (Meuse) two 
workmen, who had taken shelter under a willow, were 
thrown a distance of four yards without being killed. 


On August 10, of the same year, at Chanvres 
(Yonne), a vine-dresser was struck by lightning and 
killed, but his heart continued to beat for thirty hours. 

Dr. Gaultier de Claubry was struck by lightning, 
with the extraordinary result that his beard was taken 
off him, roots and all, so that it never grew again. 

At Fresneaux (Oise), a young girl of twenty, Mile. 
Laure Leloup, had her head shorn by lightning. A 
wide furrow was to be traced on the crown of her head, 
caused by the electric fluid. Her hair was removed 
right down to the skin as though by a razor. 

On September 4, 1898, a flash of lightning lit up 
all the electric lamps in the Prefecture of Lyon. 

Really it is extraordinary the queer things lightning 
will do ! Death in one case, an innocent practical joke 
in another ! I have hundreds of quaint records before 
me. Impossible to deduce any kind of law from them 
all. You are tempted to believe that the electric 
current has a brain. 

A young woman was picking cherries off a rather 
tall cherry-tree. A young man stood underneath. The 
young woman was struck by lightning, and fell dead. 
This was in July, 1885. 

In September, 1898, at Remaines, near Ramerupt 
(Aube), a certain M. Finot, an innkeeper, was standing 
on his doorstep looking out at a storm, when a flash of 
lightning followed by a thunderclap sent him flying 


back into the hall. He remained unconscious for a 
time, and his sight was affected for ten hours. The 
extraordinary thing, however, in his case was that he 
had been a victim of rheumatism until then, and walked 
with difficulty and only with a stick, and that ever 
since this occurrence he has been able to do without 
the stick, and to pursue his avocations quite comfort- 
ably. He feels that he has no reason to regret his 
experience, though he is not anxious to go through 
anything of the kind again. This kind of electrical 
phenomenon might be catalogued under the title 
" Medicinal Lightning." 

Now for a case of " Judicial Lightning." 

On July 20, 1872, a negro named Norris was hanged 
in the State of Kentucky for having killed a mulatto, 
a fellow- workman of his. At the moment of his setting 
foot upon the scaffold, there was a terrible clap of 
thunder, and the condemned man was struck dead by 
lightning. The sheriff was so much moved by the 
occurrence that he resigned his office. 

Let us wind up this little collection of strange cases 
with another occurrence reported from the United States. 

An immense grange had been built by a man 
named Abner Millikan, an ardent republican, who 
adorned the front walls of his farm with portraits of 
MacKinley and Hobart. During a violent storm that 
broke out, the building was struck by lightning several 


times, and it looked as though it were enveloped in 
great sheets of flame. Millikan, who had been at some 
distance from the spot, rushed thither much alarmed, 
and found to his relief that no damage had been done. 
The portraits alone had been destroyed, and here is 
the strange detail the lightning had traced the 
politicians' features upon the wall. 

Certainly lightning plays queer pranks. And I 
have said nothing yet of the photographs lightning 
sometimes takes. 

Pranks they seem to us, but we may be sure there 
is some method in their mischievousness. It is the 
same with women. Women in their caprices are 
but obeying some law of nature. They are not so 
capricious as they seem. 

These strange facts teach us, anyway, not for the 
first time, that our knowledge of the universe is still 
very incomplete, and that its study is worth following 
up in all its chapters. 

We may be certain that electricity exercises a much 
more important influence in nature than is generally 
supposed, and that it plays a role in our own lives 
which is still practically unrecognized. In the oppres- 
sion we feel before the coming of a storm, and the sense 
of relief we experience when it has passed, we have an 
instance of the way in which physical and moral in- 
fluences are apt to blend or overlap. 



WITH such strange facts before us facts the strange- 
ness and diversity of which baffle all hypotheses and 
forbid all definite conclusions we can but keep adding 
to our observations and accumulating other facts which 
may tend to elucidate the mystery. The terrible 
ravages caused every year by lightning make it necessary 
for us to find some means of preventing the recurrence 
of certain memorable catastrophes. It is only in the 
actual investigation of the phenomenon, in the study 
of all its smallest manifestations, that we can hope to 
discover the methods of the mysterious power. 

From the earliest times mankind has devoted much 
thought to the subject. If we glance back towards 
past centuries we find that thunder and lightning have 
ever been regarded as a terrible agent of the will of 
the powers above. 

The strongest and subtlest brains of antiquity, 
Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Seneca, were unable to form 
any kind of reasonable view regarding the fantastic 

17 c 


phenomena resulting from the force of nature and held 
so mysterious to us moderns. Thunder and lightning 
were generally believed by them to be due to emana- 
tions from the earth or to vapours contained in the air. 

The Etruscans, who flourished fifteen hundred years 
before Christ, and who were much given to the study 
of nature, are said to have observed the tendency of 
lightning to make for points, but no theory upon the 
subject has come down to us from them. 

Electricity for the ancients was an unpluinbed ocean, 
whose slightest fluctuations affected them in ways they 
could not understand. In vain they appealed to their 
gods to help them to explain the enigma. Olympus 
turned a deaf ear to their prayers. 

Their imagination exhausted itself in researches 
into the nature of such things as amber, in which they 
recognized the curious attribute of attraction and 
repulsion for objects of slight weight. The poets 
attributed it to the tears of Phaeton's sisters, lament- 
ing over the dreams of Eridan. Certain naturalists 
regarded it as a kind of gum issuing from trees during 
the dry days. No one gave any thought to electricity, 
by whose subtle fluid the earth and everything upon it 
is penetrated and enveloped. 

The superstitions connected with lightning would 
furnish forth material in themselves for a very curious 
volume of stories half comic, half tragic. 


With the Romans the fall of a thunderbolt was 
always taken as an omen. In the reign of Domitian, 
thunder was to be heard once so constantly during a 
period of eight months that the tyrant, frightened by 
the bombardment from on high, at last cried out in his 
terror : " Let the blow come, then, where it will ! " 
The stroke fell upon the capitol, and upon the temple of 
the Flavian family, as well as upon the emperor's palace 
and the very room in which he slept. The inscription 
beneath the triumphal statue was even torn away by 
the tempest and thrown into a neighbouring garden. 

Otto de Guerike, burgomaster of Magdeburg and 
inventor of the air-pump, was the first person to 
discover the means of producing the electric spark, 
about 1650. About the same time, Dr. Wall, while 
watching electricity being released from a roll of 
amber, noticed a spark and a sudden sharp report, 
suggestive of a minute flash of lightning, followed 
by a minute peal of thunder. The analogy was 
striking. This discovery opened out a new horizon 
to physicists, and almost immediately the feeble electric 
light produced by the hand of man came to be 
associated with the monstrous sheaves of fire let loose 
in space by unknown forces. 

L'Abbe Nollet, considered in the France of his time 
as an oracle in regard to natural philosophy, expressed 
himself as follows upon this subject : "If some one, after 


comparing the phenomena, were to undertake to prove 
that thunder is in the hands of nature what electricity 
is in ours, that those electrical wonders with which we 
are now able to make so much play are petty imitations 
of those great lightning effects which frighten us ; that 
both result from the same mechanism ; and if he could 
make it evident that a cloud produced by the action of 
the winds, by heat, and by the mingling of exhalations, 
bears the same relation to a terrestrial object as an 
electrified body bears to an unelectrified body in its 
close proximity, I admit that the idea, if well worked 
out, would captivate me greatly ; and, to work it out, 
how many plausible arguments there are at the disposal 
of a man who is properly versed in electricity ! " 

The invention of the Leyden jar in 1746, and Frank- 
lin's brilliant investigations, make these conjectures the 
more probable. Since then electricity has gone ahead 
and become one of the most important branches of 
modern natural philosophy. 

When Franklin demonstrated that the air is in a 
permanent condition of electrification even when the 
sky is clear, people began to study not thunder alone 
but the general electrical state of the atmosphere. 
And ever since meteorological observatories have made it 
a practice to register every day the degree and nature 
of atmospheric electricity by the use of very ingenious 


But the records obtained up till now leave us in 
doubt upon many points. The subject is still full of 
new surprises. 

Whence come those masses of electricity which move 
about in the clouds, sometimes escaping from them in 
thunderclaps and causing such tremendous ravages 
upon this earth of ours ? The evaporation of the sea 
is one of their principal causes. 

The atmosphere is continually impregnated with 
electric effluvia which flow silently through the soil 
through the medium of all bodies, organized or not, 
attached to the earth's surface. Plants afford an 
especially welcome pathway to this fluid. The green 
leaves you see rustling in the wind are often being 
traversed by electrical currents, luckily harmless, of 
precisely the same nature as those of the deadly 
lightning. On the other hand, the earth itself emits 
a certain quantity of electricity, and it is from the 
attraction exerted by these two fluids upon each other 
that thunder comes into existence. To put it in 
another way, thunder is a sudden striking of a balance 
between two different masses of electricity. 

Minute researches have established the fact that in 
ordinary conditions the terrestrial globe is charged 
with resinous, or negative electricity, while the atmo- 
sphere holds in suspension vitree, or positive electricity. 
In two words, our planet and its aerial envelope 


are two great reservoirs of electricity, between which 
take place continual exchanges which play a role 
in the life of plants and animals complementary to 
that which is played by warmth and moisture. 

The aurora borealis, which sometimes illumines, 
with a brilliancy as of fairyland, the dar. ness of night 
in the Arctic and all the regions of the North, finds its 
explanation in the same phenomenon. It also is a 
striking of a balance, silent but visible, between two 
opposing tensions of the atmosphere and the earth; 
thus the apparition of the aurora borealis in Sweden or 
Norway is accompanied by electric currents moving 
through the earth to a distance sufficiently great to 
cause the magnetic needle to record the occurrence in 
the Paris Observatory. 

Indeed, the electricity which pervades the earth, 
silently and invisibly, is identical with that which 
moves in the heights of the enveloping atmosphere, and, 
whether it be positive or negative, its essential unity 
remains the same, these qualities serving only to 
indicate a point, more or less in common, between the 
different charges. The heights of the atmosphere are 
more powerfully electrified than the surface of the 
globe, and the degree of electricity increases in the 
atmosphere with the distance from the earth. 

Atmospheric electricity undergoes, like warmth, and 
like atmospheric pressure, a double fluctuation, yearly 


and daily, as well as accidental fluctuations more 
considerable than the regular ones. The maximum 
comes between six and seven in the morning in summer, 
and between ten and twelve in winter ; the mini- 
mum comes between five and six in the afternoon in 
summer, and about three in the afternoon in winter. 
There is a second maximum at sunset, followed by a 
diminution during the night until sunrise. This fluctu- 
ation is connected with that of the hygrometric 
condition of the air. In the annual fluctuation the 
maximum comes in January, and the minimum in 
July ; it is due to the great atmospherical circulation ; 
the winter is the time when the equatorial currents are 
most active in our hemisphere, and when the aurora 
borealis is to be seen most often. 

On the other hand, the water of oceans and rivers is 
continually evaporating under the influence of solar 
heat, and rises into the atmosphere, where it remains 
in the form of an invisible gaseous vapour. Soon it 
becomes cold again, and, in the process of condensation, 
transparent gaseous molecules become transformed into 
minute drops, which accumulate into a cloud. 

Generally speaking, clouds are, like the atmosphere, 
charged with positive electricity. Sometimes, however, 
there are negative clouds. You may frequently see, on 
the summits of mountains, clouds which seem to cling 
to the peaks for a while, as though drawn to them by 


some force of attraction, and then move away to follow 
the general direction of the winds. It often happens 
that in this case the clouds have lost their positive 
electricity in thus coming in contact with the moun- 
tains, and have derived from them in its place the 
negative electricity which, instead of holding them, 
has a tendency to drive them off. A mass of clouds 
lying between the negative earth and a mass of positive 
clouds above is almost neutral ; the positive electricity 
accumulates towards its lower surface, and the first 
drops of rain will make it disappear. This mass will, 
from that moment, become like the surface of the soil 
that is to say, it will become negative under the 
influence of the mass above it, endowed with a strong 
positive tendency. 

The cloud remains suspended in space until the 
moment when, under the influence of the ambient 
medium, it dissolves in rain. 

The causes of the instability of clouds are very 
numerous. My readers are aware that the atmosphere 
is being constantly agitated by vast currents which pass 
from the equator to the poles, and from which the 
different winds result. 

The clouds take part in this universal whirl of 
atmospheric waves. Transported from one point to 
another often far beyond the region where they 
came into existence subjected to every vicissitude of 


atmosphere, and blown about by contrary currents, 
they follow the gigantic movements which take the 
form sometimes of cyclones and tempests. 

Under the influence of warmth, and probably also 
by its transformation, these movements engender great 
masses of electricity, and presently, when the clouds 
have become saturated with it, the electricity breaks 
out, and there is a thunderstorm. 

The electric fluid, escaped from the cloud in which 
it has been imprisoned, flies to unite itself, either with 
the negative electricity stored in the surface of the 
earth, or else with the electricity in other neighbouring 
clouds. Almost always the cloud torn open by the 
electric discharge dissolves in rain or hail. 

Thus a storm is the outcome of violent move- 
ments produced by the force of electricity when this 
has reached its maximum of intensity. Thunderstorms 
are generally heralded by certain premonitory signs. 
The barometer goes down steadily. The air, calm and 
heavy, is pervaded by a bitter sulphurous odour. The 
heat is stifling. An abnormal silence reigns over the 
land. All this has a remarkable effect upon certain 
organisms, and produces nervous complaints, a buzzing 
in the ears, a sense of painful oppression, a sort of 
good-for-nothingness that we combat in vain. 

In most cases storms come to us in France ready 
made, so to speak, from the sea, borne in by the 


currents from the south-west; they are the off-shoots 
of the cyclones, and are born in the tropics, moving in 
lines from the south-west to the north-east. Ordinarily 
they lose part of their strength en route and come 
to an end suddenly with us. 

There are, of course, home-made storms also, so to 
speak, especially in France during our hot summers, 
when the sun is shining all the day, and thus pro- 
moting the rapid evaporation of our seas and rivers. 

The air is charged with a heavy mist which veils 
the horizon ; the barometer is going down, the 
thermometer going up. The sun looks leaden though 
there are no clouds. When it approaches the meridian 
and its rays are most scorching, columns of vapour 
ascend and become condensed into the light clouds 
termed cirri. At the end of some hours these clouds 
become attracted to each other, descend a little, and 
become grouped together into what look like great 
masses of cotton-wool. These are termed cumuli. 
Presently a small grey cloud joins the others. It looks 
innocent and harmless, but very often this is the 
beginning of the battle. First there ensues, perhaps, 
a discharge or two of lightning without casualties, but 
soon the bombardment becomes general, and long 
blinding fusillades flash through space. The heavens, 
darkened over, seem to have sunk quite low, and to 
have become a great black mass, from which the 


lightning escapes in sudden jets. Rain and hail pelt 
down upon the earth to an accompaniment of the 
rumbling of thunder. Confusion has fallen upon the 
entire universe. 

Then, finally, the fight comes to a close. The 
clouds disperse and allow us to see once again a wide 
expanse of sunlit blue. The birds, their hearts freed 
again from terror, begin to sing again. Flowers and 
foliage and soil, refreshed by the rain, give out sweet 
perfumes. An immense joy takes the place of the 
sense of melancholy and oppression. It is good to see 
the sun again ! Alas, though, there are grim realities 
to be faced presently. The hailstones have destroyed 
the crops and begotten famine the lightning has sown 
death and plunged whole families into mourning. It 
is with these misfortunes before us that we make up 
our minds to do what in us lies to diminish the 
destructiveness of this terrible force. 

How are storm-clouds to be detected ? 

Generally speaking, their shape is very clearly 
defined, and they have a look of solidity about them. 

Their lower surface is often unbroken, presenting a 
level plain from which there rise huge ragged pro- 
tuberances like great plumes. Sometimes, on the other 
hand, they have great projections underneath, trailing 
quite near the ground. 

Storm-clouds move generally in large numbers, 


and are generally composed of two separate masses, 
differently electrified the lower one giving out negative 
electricity, the higher positive electricity. The flashes 
of lightning occur generally between these two masses, 
though also, less frequently, between the lower mass 
and the earth. 

It may be said that, generally speaking, storms are 
the result of the meeting of two masses of clouds 
differently electrified. 

For long, physicists refused to admit the validity of 
any other theory, and combated in particular the idea 
that lightning could issue from a single isolated cloud. 

This has, however, been established now as a fact, 
and in such cases the flashes have always, of course, 
taken place between the cloud and the earth. 

Marcorelle, of Toulouse, reports that on September 
12, 1747, the sky being then pure and cloudless but 
for one round speck, there was suddenly a thunder- 
clap and a flash which killed a woman on the spot, 
burning her breast but doing no damage to her 

Here is another interesting case. Two priests of 
the Cathedral of Lombey, who were standing in the 
area of their chapter-house, busy winnowing, saw a 
small cloud approaching them little by little. When 
it was immediately above them a flash of lightning 
broke out and struck a tree just beside them, 


splitting it from top to bottom. They heard no 
thunderclap. The weather was quite fine. There 
was no wind, and this was the only cloud in the sky. 

Storms are far more prevalent in some countries 
than in others. According to Pliny, thunder was 
unknown in Egypt, and, according to Plutarch, in 
Abyssinia. This could not be said now, however, 
perhaps because these lands have grown unworthy of 
their exemption. It might be said, however, of Peru, 
whose pure and limpid skies are never troubled by 
tempest. Jupiter tonans must be a myth indeed to a 
people who know nothing of thunderclaps or wet days. 

Storms diminish in number in high latitudes, but 
there are local conditions which affect their distribution. 
Then they are particularly frequent in countries that 
are thickly wooded and in mountainous districts. 

Arago came to the conclusion, after a considerable 
number of observations, that, out in the open sea 
or among islands, there is no thunder in the north 
beyond the 75th degree of latitude. This is not 
absolutely so, but it is a fact that storms are very 
much rarer in the polar regions. They become more 
and more frequent towards the equator, and are very 
numerous in the tropics. 

On either side of the equator storms come year 
after year with remarkable regularity in the wet season, 
and at the time of the monsoons. 


At Guadeloupe and Martinique there is never any 
thunder in December, January, February, or March. 

In temperate climates there are scarcely any storms 
in winter ; they begin in the spring, and attain their 
maximum of intensity in the heat of summer. 

In Italy there are thunderstorms at almost all 
times of the year. 

In Greece they come chiefly in spring and autumn. 

It is noticeable that in all latitudes they come most 
often in the afternoon. 



THE Romans attributed a mysterious influence to each 
manifestation of electricity. They divided lightning 
into individual and family lightning, lightning of 
advice, monitory, explanatory, expostulatory, confirma- 
tory, auxiliary, disagreeable, perfidious, pestiferous, 
menacing, murderous, etc., etc. 

They adapted it to every taste and circumstance, 
but modern science has come to put order into this 

When a cloud is superabundantly charged with 
electricity, this electricity, which is compressed in the 
cloudy envelope, tries to escape in order to join the 
electricity accumulated either in another cloud or on 
the ground. An electric deflagration ensues, and a 
long ignited dart precipitates itself into space, "showing 
us on a large scale what our experience of physics has 
taught us in a small way in oui laboratories. This 
luminous and often dazzling trail constitutes lightning. 

Lightning is not always the same, and in order to 


classify the different forms it takes more easily, it can 
be divided into three groups diffused lightning, 
linear lightning, and fireballs. This last is the most 
curious of the three. The variety and eccentricity of 
fireballs are celebrated in the history of lightning, and 
I propose to devote the following chapter to their 

Diffused lightning is the commonest of all. You can 
count hundreds of flashes on a stormy night. Occasion- 
ally they succeed one another with such rapidity 
that the sky is momentarily entirely illumined with a 
fantastic brightness. At these times great sombre 
clouds can be seen surging from the darkness of the 
night, to shine suddenly with an ephemeral brightness 
of a diffused red, blue, or violet tinge. Their irregular 
shapes, with their jagged edges of light, are visible 
against the dark background of the heavens, and the 
thunder growls monotonously. Whether the exchange 
of electricity is produced on a vast stretch between two 
rows of clouds, or whether it is manifested by a long 
thin spark launched like an arrow and veiled by the 
curtain of clouds, all that can be seen is a strange light, 
vague, diaphanous, instantaneous, which sometimes 
spreads itself like a sheet of fire all over the horizon. 

It is diffused lightning which gives us the finest 
storm effects on those heavy summer evenings when 
the air is breathless and saturated with electricity. 


Suddenly the clouds are illumined, nebulous veils of 
light on which can be seen, in sombre fantastic, 
fugitive vision, the outlines of the trees, houses, and 
other landmarks. Then, all at once, heaven and earth 
fall back into a darkness deeper than before, owing to 
the contrast. 

Linear lightning is more terrible. It is regarded 
by astronomers as the most perfect form of destructive 
lightning. It is a strong flash a thin trail of light 
very clear, and extraordinarily rapid, which shoots from 
an electric cloud to the earth, or from one cloud to 

Like a supple and undulating serpent of fire, it 
twists itself luminously into . space, spreading itself 
menacingly in the heavens with its long spirals of 

Sometimes in a hurry, no doubt, to reach its prey 
it effects its passage in a straight line, but as a 
rule it follows a sinuous track, and forms itself into 
a zigzag at an obtuse angle. The different forms 
which this lightning takes are no doubt attributable 
to various causes. One of the chief of these seems 
to be the unequal distribution of humidity in the air, 
which renders it a more or less good conductor. In 
fact, fulminic matter is strongly attracted towards 
damp regions, and goes quickly from one point to 
another, guided in its chosen way by the hygrometrical 


conditions of the atmosphere ; and it is these constant 
changes of direction which determine the meanderings 
of its course. Thus the lightning would trace a sort 
of plan of the hygrometrical state of the air for a 
certain portion of the atmosphere. For it, the short 
road is hardly ever the straight line. 

On the other hand, the variability of the over- 
loading of electricity has something to say to the 
form it takes. 

Sometimes lightning forms itself into two or three 
branches, and becomes forked lightning. Or it even 
divides itself into a number of points from a principal 
branch, out of which a great many sparks burst forth. 

These incandescent sheaves move through space with 
extraordinary agility. It has not been possible to 
measure their speed with absolute accuracy, but their 
rapidity is such that their transit appears to be 
instantaneous. The latest researches seem to have 
proved that their speed is superior to that of light, 
which is 300,000 kilometres a second. 

Lightning is not always of a dazzling whiteness, 
it is often yellow, red, blue, violet, or green. Its 
colour depends on the quantity of the electricity 
thrown on the atmosphere by the discharge; on the 
density of the air at the time of the passage of the 
ignited matter ; on its hygrometrical state, and on 
the substances which it contains during suspension. 


It has been remarked in the study of physics that the 
electric spark is white in the open air, but that it 
gets a violet tinge in the vacuum of a pneumatic 

This proves that violet lightning comes from the 
far-off' regions of the atmosphere. It traverses a bed 
of rarified air, and shows the great height of the storm- 
clouds from which it emanates. 

The fulminating spark is so fugitive that it is 
difficult to form an idea of its length. One could 
easily take it to be a yard or so long, so illusory and 
deceptive are our impressions. As a matter of fact, 
it is proved that flashes of lightning cover a distance 
of several kilometres. 

There are various methods to which one can have 
recourse in these scientific researches. The first, which 
gives the length of horizontal lightning, is based on 
a minute comparison between the trajectory described 
by the meteor and the known distance of the ter- 
restrial points between which it travels. In order to 
gauge the extent of vertical lightning, you must 
estimate approximately the height of the clouds from 
which it comes, based on the irregularities of the earth 
of which the height is known. 

But there is a still simpler method for approximate 
measurement within the reach of every one. It con- 
sists in multiplying 337 (the number of yards traversed 


by sound in a second) by the number of seconds during 
which the thunder lasts. 

These methods all give the same result, and prove 
that lightning is often 1, 5, and 10 kilometres in 
length. The greatest length proved up to the present 
has been 18 kilometres. When one thinks of the 
instantaneousness of these flashes, one marvels at their 
incomparable agility, and we can only be lost in 
admiration of the magic force of the heavenly sling, 
which is capable of hurling these whole rivers of fire 
to roll in their sinuous course right through space, 
and in a space of time almost inappreciable to our 

Yet, in spite of the extreme rapidity of the 
lightning, it has been possible to determine that these 
meteors do not last the thousandth part of a second. 
To prove this, we take a circle of cardboard, divided 
from the middle into black and white sections. This 
circle can be turned like a wheel almost as quickly 
as one can wish. We know that luminous impressions 
remain on the retina the tenth part of a second; 
thus, if we imitate the childish game of turning a 
lighted coal if the turn is made in the tenth of a 
second, each successive position of the coal remaining 
impressed on the retina for the same length of time 
we have a continuous circle. In turning our cardboard 
wheel with the black and white spokes, if each spoke 


passes before our eyes in less than the tenth of a 
second, we can no longer distinguish between the 
sections, but can only see a grey circle. But we can 
make it rotate a hundred turns or more in a second ; 
this being done, if we continue to observe the circle, 
we can no longer see the lines, they succeed each other 
more quickly in our eyes than the impression they 
produce. But if the circle turns before us in the 
darkness, and it is suddenly lighted up and as suddenly 
darkened, the impression produced on our eyes by 
each of the sections would last less than the tenth 
of a second, and the circle would appear to us as if 
it were stationary. In applying a calculated rotation 
to this contrivance, Charles Wheatstone has proved that 
some lightning does not last the thousandth part of 
a second. This measure is probably a minimum ; in 
the majority of cases the duration of lightning is 
longer than this. 

Often during the hot, transparent summer nights, 
we see a considerable number of flashes, which furrow 
the firmament with their gentle, bluish light. These 
fugitive gleams remind us in the sky of the will-o'- 
the-wisps, which come forth silently from marshy 
ground. The atmosphere is pure ; there are no ap- 
parent traces of a storm, and yet the sky is glistening 
with thousands of small flames. The flashes succeed 
one another almost without interruption. These 


electric sparks are known as heat-lightning, but this 
is quite inaccurate, and has no meaning in the language 
of modern science. 

In a great number of cases an astronomer would 
be able to discover certain characteristic signs in- 
dicating that a storm is taking place under the 
horizon at a very great distance from the point of 
observation. It is only at the moment when the sky 
is lighted up that one can see the ridge of clouds 
lying low on the horizon. At other times there is 
no sign of a storm, as far as the eye can see. The 
atmosphere is quite clear, and yet the sky is swept 
with a number of electric flashes. But afterwards 
you hear that a violent storm has devastated the 
region over which the gleams have appeared, and that 
it is to this that they are attributable. They are 
only reflected lights. 

A sailor tells us that once when he was out at 
sea, more than 100 kilometres from Lima, he saw 
a number of bright flashes, without any thunder, to 
the east and north-east of the horizon. The weather 
was perfect, and the sky absolutely serene. Now we 
know that storms, and the electric phenomena which 
they produce, are unknown upon that coast; but 
this immunity does not extend for more than 100 
kilometres to the interior of this country, so that 
this lightning which was observed at sea, 100 kilometres 


from the shore, must have taken place more than 

200 kilometres away. 

One of our correspondents, M. Soleyre of Constan- 

tine, sent us word, in 1899, of an interesting case of 

lightning without thunder. 

" In August," he says, " I noticed it in the valley 

of the Arve above Salambes ; when I came back to 

Algiers I saw it again on September 16, and on 

October 19. 

" It was not sheet lightning, but ordinary lightning 

concentrated in very thin lines. This lasted long, and 
was very near. Another thing, there was no hail. This 
is not very rare in Algiers." 

On September 1, 1901, 1 happened to be in Geneva 
at about 6 p.m. The weather was heavy but very fine. 
I noticed a good deal of lightning on the south-west 
of the horizon. It went on almost without interruption 
above the Savoy Alps. Each flash illuminated at the 
same time the ridge of the mountains and the fringed 
edge of the great sombre clouds lying low on the 
horizon. This lightning was silent ; the noise of the 
thunder did not reach Geneva. The next day I learnt 
that a terrible storm had devastated the neighbourhood 
of Chambery and Aix-les-Bains. 

Moreover, apart from storms, there have been other 
records of this lighting up of the sky being observed at 
great distances. 


Thus, in 1803, a service of luminous communica- 
tions was established on Mount Brocken in the Hartz 
Mountains in order to determine the differences of 
longitude. The combustion of 180 to 200 grammes of 
powder, burnt in the open air, for each of the signals, 
produced a light which was observed by astronomers 
stationed on Mount Kenlenberg, although they were 240 
kilometres from Brocken, which is itself invisible from 

On certain fete-days, July 14, for example, when 
the principal monuments in Paris are illuminated, at 
a distance of 20 and 30 kilometres we can see a sort 
of luminous vapour which floats above the town and 
reflects the lights of the boulevards, although the 
lights themselves are invisible from the point of 

Here is another example which any Parisian can 
verify : the captive balloon of the Aerodrome at Porte- 
Maillot, which soars some hundreds of yards above Paris 
during the spring and summer, as seen from the dark 
paths of the Bois de Boulogne, appears against the 
azure of the sky like a magnificent globe bathed in 
light, resembling an enormous moon. Well, this gentle, 
pale light is only the reflection of the lights of Paris 
which are invisible from the Bois de Boulogne. 

The earth and all the planets which are dark in 
themselves, shine in space lighted up by the sun. 


The silent lightning which flashes in the sky is 
only the reflection of a distant storm. Whether on 
account of the spherical shape of the earth or on account 
of the irregularities of the land, the clouds are invisible, 
but the effluvium which escapes from them can be seen 
at a great distance. 

These poetic and ephemeral flames which glide 
through the sky, appeal to the imagination of the 
dreamer, and yet they are quite as terrible as the flashes 
which are accompanied by thunder. If the noise which 
accompanies these is not perceptible, it is because the 
sound of the thunder does not carry far, and has been 
lost in space before reaching us. 

It is the same with the silent lightning which 
gleams in a stormy sky. This phenomenon is particu- 
larly frequent in the Antilles. Either the storm breaks 
too far from the observer, or the discharge has taken 
place between two beds of clouds, the lower of which 
intercepts the waves of sound without preventing the 
escape of the electric spark, and the thunder is not 

As a rule we imagine that lightning always descends, 
that it comes to us from the higher celestial regions to 
be lost in the common reservoir. But this is quite 
inaccurate. Lightning sometimes ascends. Sometimes 
it descends and reascends. That is to say, after it 
reaches the ground, either there is no attraction there, 


or a stronger force draws it back to the aerial regions, 
and it flies back to the clouds whence it came. 

As a rule we only fear the direct lightning. This 
is a great mistake. There are many cases of lightning 
striking from a distance. 

For example, at the end of May, 1866, an English 
coastguard was making his rounds on the coast of one 
of the Shetland Isles, when a flash of lightning passed 
near him, striking a great rock. The unfortunate man 
was completely blinded, and plunged into darkness 
thus suddenly, he would inevitably have fallen down an 
abyss, if his companions, attracted by his cries, had not 
come to the rescue and taken him home. 
Here is another case : 

On September 24, 1826, a terrible storm burst over 
Versailles, accompanied by a great deal of thunder and 
lightning. At the moment when the lightning struck 
Galli's farm, an old man who was in a street in 
Versailles, at a distance of two kilometres from the 
farm, suddenly felt a violent shock, accompanied by a 
feeling of oppression and giddiness and a semi-paralysis 
of the tongue and the whole of his left side. Next 
morning this had passed away, but in the evening at 
the same time as the shock had occurred, he felt 
similar sensations of fainting, and it was the same to 
the end of the week. It would be well to remark here 
that at the moment of the accident, M. B 


happened to be near the wall of a house, not far from 
the metallic tube which conducted the rain-water into 
the level of the pavement. 

The following phenomenon, to which we have 
already alluded, is no less curious : 

On July 22, 1868, at about 7 o'clock in the 
evening, at Gien-sur-Cure (Nievre), the thunder had 
been growling violently for some time, when all of a 
sudden the lightning struck a thatched house, which it 
set on fire. At the same time a woman who was in a 
house ten yards away, felt a shock, and saw the tiled 
floor rise beneath her. Her two sabots were broken 
on her feet, and a bottle of Holy Water with which she 
was blessing the house was broken in her hand, only 
the neck remained in her fingers. She herself suffered 
nothing but the shock. Nineteen of the tiles were flung 
in all directions. 

Here is another very remarkable case of ascending 
lightning 1 , published in the Comptes Rendus of the 
Academic des Sciences : 

At Porto- Alegre, on June 9, 1870, at 2 a.m., 
during a violent storm, on the property of M. Laranja 
e Oliveira, at Brazil, a servant was entering the house ; 
he was about ten yards away, when a flash of lightning 
illuminated it; at the same moment he felt a great 
tingling in the flesh of his feet, then in his legs, then 
all over his body, and finally in his head, on which the 


hair stood on end to such an extent that Tie was obliged 
to hold his hat on in order to prevent its falling off. 
At the same time, a white flame burst from the ground 
about two yards in front of him, accompanied by a 
shower of sparks. Terrified by such a phenomenon, 
which he attributed to souls from another world, he 
thought he was petrified to the spot; finally, he ran 
away. Anything metallic which he had about him at 
the time of this occurrence became magnetized. A key 
which was in his pocket remained magnetic for two 

Thus, as well as the ordinary fulguration, in which 
the lightning (which we imagine descends from the 
clouds) acts directly on the body, and the lightning 
which strikes indirectly, there are other electric shocks 
which can be experienced by men and animals. Notable 
among these is the striking from the earth, commonly 
known as choc de retour, and which is in reality only 
an instance of the ascending current, or of lightning 
striking from a distance. We must also describe the 
striking by a man who has been struck. 

The Abbe Richard, in his Histoire de VAir, tells the 
following story : 

In the neighbourhood of the village of Rumigny, in 
Picardy, on August 20, 1769, at six o'clock in the 
morning, there was a sudden irruption of fulminating 
matter from the bosom of the earth in such quantities 


as to produce the most violent results. The sky was 
cloudy, and looked like a storm. A young farmer and 
his wife were following, at some distance, a vehicle 
drawn by four horses. Suddenly the driver of this, 
without seeing the lightning or hearing the thunder, was 
thrown to the earth. His four horses were stretched 
dead on the ground near the carriage. There was a 
smoking hole in the ground, from which the effluvium 
came forth and killed the young man and his wife at 
ten paces off and separated from each other by twenty 
paces. The current also knocked down, at a hundred 
paces, the father of the young man in the same fashion 
as it had done the driver, but without injuring one or 
the other. 

The bodies showed no signs of a wound, only 
a considerable swelling and a great deformity of the 
features. The woman, who was young and pretty, 
became hideous ; the whole of her body as well as that 
of her husband was absolutely yellow. The four horses 
had their intestines drawn from their bodies. They 
were all thrown on the same side. The man's hat was 
pierced and his hair burnt, but he had no bruise on his 

This account, in which we must not be surprised to 
find the ideas and language of the time (let us observe 
in passing that the man who was struck did not hear 
the thunder, and had not even time to see the lightning 


of which he was the victim) this account, I say, gives 
us an instance of ascending lightning. Here is another. 

The traveller Brydone gives the following example, 
which he himself observed : 

On July 19, 1785, a storm burst near Coldstream 
between 12 and 1 a.m. A woman who was cutting hay 
on the banks of the Tweed fell backwards. She at 
once called to her companions, and said she had just 
received a violent blow on her foot for which she could 
in no way account. At the time there was no thunder 
or lightning in the sky. The shepherd of a farm at 
Lennel Hill saw a sheep fall near him, which a few 
minutes before appeared to be in perfect health ; he 
found it stone dead. The storm then appeared very 
far off. Two carts laden with coal, and each driven 
by a young driver seated on a small seat in front, 
crossed over the Tweed. They had just climbed a 
small hill near the banks of this river when they heard 
a great detonation round about, similar to that which 
would be produced by the discharge of several guns. 
At the same instant the driver of the second cart saw 
the first, with his companion and the two horses, fall to 
the ground. The driver and horses were stone dead. 
The ground was pierced with three circular holes at the 
very spot where the wheels had touched it when the 
accident happened. Half an hour after this event the 
holes emitted an odour which Brydone compared to 


that of ether. The two circular iron bands which 
covered the felloes of the wheels showed evident signs 
of fusion in the two spots which rested on the ground 
at the moment of the detonation, and in no other 
place. The skin of the horses had been burnt, particu- 
larly about the legs and under the stomach. The body 
of the driver had marks of burning here and there. 
His. clothes, his shirt, and, above all, his hat, were 
reduced to shreds, and gave out a strong smell. 

Orioli gives an example of two men who were 
surprised by a violent storm near the village of Ben- 
venide. They lay down on the ground to let the 
meteor pass. Some moments later one of them got up 
feeling very tired, but the other was dead. The bones 
of the latter were so soft that it was easy to bend them ; 
his whole body was of the consistency of paste. The 
tongue had been torn from the roots, and no one knew 
what had become of it. 

Now, just as the earth can strike, so can -the human 
body become fulminating and act like lightning. After 
having been struck, it can effectively acquire the power 
to strike in its turn. 

For instance, on June 30, 1854, a man named Barri 
was killed by lightning near the Jardin des Plantes, in 
Paris, and his body lay for some time exposed to a 
beating rain. After the storm had passed, two soldiers 
from the neighbouring guard-house tried to remove 


the body, and each received a violent blow when they 
touched it. They got off with a shock, perhaps because 
the body had been drenched with rain, which acted as 
a conductor to the electricity, and thus it had had time 
to lose a part of the fluid. 

What a mysterious world is that of atmospheric 
electricity ! It is truly the New World for the scientific 
mind a mine, fruitful in unknown and even unsus- 
pected marvels, which is perpetually disclosing its riches 
for our admiration. 

One of our most valued collaborators in our re- 
searches on the nature of lightning is photography. 
Faithfully and unhesitatingly it registers an indestruc- 
tible document of the fugitive lightning, which imprints 
itself on the sensitized plate, and the astronomer can 
afterwards examine the smallest details of the sudden 
apparition comfortably and at his leisure. We have 
already a considerable number of plates of the outline 
of the lightning in flight. An examination of these 
electric pictures is very interesting. 

Who knows whether, later on, when phonography 
is brought to perfection, it will not also register the 
noisy accompaniment to the electric flash ? Then, with 
the help of the cinematograph, we could have dramatic 
representations of sensational storms. While the 
photograph unrolls all the phases of the lightning, 
from its emerging from the cloud to its fall to earth, 


before the gaze of the spectators, the phonograph will 
repeat the sonorous accents of the terrorizing voice of 

Thunder, as all the world knows, is the noise which 
accompanies lightning. It is produced when a change 
of electricity a neutralization takes place between 
two points more or less distant. The causes whic 
provoke it are still somewhat of a mystery. 

The luminous rocket which flings itself precipitately 
from a cloud saturated with electricity, spreads itself 
like a trail of flames in the atmosphere where an infinity 
of invisible molecules are floating ; these it repels. The 
passage of this whirlwind of fire in a centre which is 
greatly compressed produces a momentary void into 
which the surrounding air at once rushes, and it is the 
same all the way along the route followed by lightning. 

In all probability the equilibrium of the atmosphere, 
which is momentarily disturbed by the intrusion of the 
ignited matter, hastily re-establishes itself by a rush of 
the air which the lightning has ejected, and which is 
swallowed up with a crash in the opening which has 
been made. It is, on a large scale, a similar pheno- 
menon to that which is produced by opening a case 
which has been hermetically sealed. The air rushing 
in makes a dull noise. 

Pouillet objects to this very natural explanation on 
the ground that the flight of a cannon-ball ought to 


produce a similar noise. But this objection errs in its 
basis, because, as regards velocity, a cannon-ball is as a 
tortoise as compared with the arrow of lightning, and 
as regards size, who can compare a few grammes of 
powder to the torrents of fire launched into space by 
the prodigious force of electricity ? 

The lightning discharge produces a violent con- 
cussion in the cloud, and very often a shower of rain 
immediately follows it. The electric conditions of the 
different clouds which make a storm being separately 
liable the one to the other, the discharge of one must 
lead to that of several others more or less distant. In 
all cases the noise is caused by the expansion of the air 
where a more or less partial void has been made. It is 
the same with fire-arms, creve-vessie, etc. 

One of the chief characteristics of thunder is the 
rolling, which is often prolonged, and reverberates on 
the sides of steep mountains. This voice, with its 
lugubrious tone, becomes grave and sometimes sinister 
in the revolution of space this voice, celestial and 
infernal, seems to momentarily dominate the world, 
while the clouds are enveloped with a thousand 
diabolical flames. Sometimes it rings in the air with 
fierce calls, at others it spreads itself in dull, languorous 

Nevertheless, the intenseness of thunder undergoes 
a thousand fluctuations, and presents astonishing 


variations. Generally it strikes and frightens, but the 
curious thing is that, for the ear, in reality it is less 
strong than the crinkling noise of a piece of paper torn 
close to it. 

Often, too, it may be compared to the discharge of 
fire-arms, a pistol or a cannon. 

Thus, when the lightning penetrated Volney's 
apartments at Naples, the people present, among whom 
was Saussure, had the impression of a pistol-shot in the 
next room. 

There is a case given of M. and Mme. Boddington, 
who were seated on the back seat of their coach in 
order to enjoy the view of the country, and had given 
the inside seats to two servants. Suddenly there was a 
flash of lightning, which struck M. and Mme. Boddington 
and flung the postillion to a great distance. The 
servants were untouched, and escaped with a fright. 
When they got over their terror, one of them said that 
a very brilliant flash of lightning had been immediately 
followed by a noise similar to that of a heavily charged 
musket. He thought some one had shot the horses. 
His fright had stunned him so that he hardly knew 
what had happened. 

At other times thunder is accompanied by a 
whistling noise, but as a rule it is the rolling which 

We ask ourselves to what it is due that this rolling 


lasts so long. There are several causes. The first is 
due to the length of lightning and the difference in 
speed between sound and light. Let us suppose, for 
example, a flash of lightning, AE, 11,000 metres long. 
The observer stationed at O, underneath extremity 
E of the lightning (which is one kilometre high), will 
see the lightning in its full length in one indivisible 
instant. The sound will form itself also at the same 



instant all along the line of lightning, but the sound- 
waves will only reach the ear of the observer at 
different times. That which starts at point E, the 
nearest, will arrive in 3 seconds, sound travelling about 
337 metres a second. That which is formed at the 
same moment at point D, 2000 yards from point O, 
will take double the time to arrive. That which comes 
from point C will not arrive for 12 seconds. The 
sound formed at B will not arrive until the time 
necessary to cover 8 kilometres that is to say, not for 
23 seconds and the sound formed at A will only reach 
after 32 seconds. Thus the rolling will have lasted 
more than half a minute from start to finish. 

And if, which is very often the case, the astronomer 


is not exactly under one of the extremities of the 
lightning, but at some other point in its course, he 
first hears a clap, then an increased noise, then a 
diminution. In fact, in this case, the sound which 
leaves point D just overhead, which is 1000 metres off, 
arrives alone in 3 seconds, but the sounds formed from 
D to E on one side, and from C to D on the other, 
arrive at the same time, having joined each other, 


taking 9 seconds, which is the necessary time to come 
from 1000 to 3000 metres. The sounds beyond C 
arrive and depart according to distance, as in the 
preceding example, and the thunder has lasted 23 
seconds instead of 32 seconds. 

I must add that lightning is never straight, but 
always crooked. 

The length of time the thunder rolls has nothing 
to do with the distance of the cloud where the phe- 
nomenon begins. It is proportionate to the length of 
the lightning with which it is associated. The rolling 
is often still more prolonged by a succession of small 
discharges, which follow each other very rapidly between 


the stormy clouds; by the zigzags and ramifications 
of the lightning caused by the hygrometrical diversity 
of the different beds of air ; by the echoes repeated 
by the mountains, the earth, the water, and the clouds 
themselves to all which must be added also the 
interferences caused by the encounter of the different 
systems of sound-waves. 

Its duration is extremely variable, however; it 
rarely exceeds 30 seconds, though the noise may some- 
times seem to last much longer, so that an observation 
of this kind may have any value one must take into 
consideration the echo, and isolate a single clap from 
the series of discharges which take place in the bosom 
of the storm. The longest verified duration of a single 
discharge is 45 seconds. That is tremendous if we 
think of the instantaneousness of the lightning, and 
reflect that the flash and the sound are produced in 
reality at the same moment, that they are dependent 
the one on the other, and that in their various mani- 
festations there is only the difference of motion. 

Sound moves like a tortoise behind the swift light- 
ning, whose vibrations spread in the air with incon- 
ceivable rapidity. 

Hence these 45 seconds correspond to a flash of 
lightning more than 15 kilometres in length, but we 
know that there are even longer ones. 

I have already said that we can calculate the 


distance of the celestial cannon from which the 
fulminating discharge comes by counting the number 
of seconds which separate the apparition of the light- 
ning from the first growls of the thunder. Thus the 
longest interval that has been proved between the 
appearance of the lightning and the noise it produces 
is 24 kilometres. This, however, is a maximum. 

Numerous observations have proved that thunder is 
never heard beyond 20 or perhaps 25 kilometres. 
Lightning pierces the cloudy veil, but the voice of 
thunder does not carry so far. In this the great 
Jupiter shows himself inferior to the ingenuity of 
human pigmies, whose destructive and barbarous art 
has been able to invent infernal machines the noise of 
which can be heard much further. 

Cannon can easily be heard at a distance of 40 
kilometres. Sometimes, in sieges and big battles the 
cannonades can be heard muttering lugubriously more 
than 100 kilometres away. 

During the siege of Paris, Krupp's cannon that 
most expeditious of all vehicles of civilization in the 
eyes of the statesmen of this planet ! could be heard 
as far as Dieppe, 140 kilometres away, during the 
nights when they were bombarding. The cannonade 
of March 30, 1814, which crowned the First Empire, 
as it crowned the Second, was heard between Lisieux 
and Caen, a distance of 175 kilometres. Arago even 


alleges that the cannon at Waterloo could be heard as 
far as Creil, which is 200 kilometres away. Thus man's 
thunder can be heard at a greater distance than that 
of nature. It is true that it is incomparably more 
vicious, and that it has a great many more victims. 

In its natural state, if we might explain it thus 
left to itself it comes directly to us from the high 
regions of the atmosphere, and is the most terrible of 
aerial messengers a subtle messenger, malicious and 
violent, it is the terror of the human race. But ruled 
by the genius of man, it becomes a powerful agent 
towards modern civilization, and we cannot sufficiently 
admire its many advantages. 

If we could tame lightning and guide it safely, 
its services would probably become innumerable. 
Lightning as man's right hand ! Why not ? Was 
it not the auxiliary of the gods in the dark ages? 
To-day, is it not regarded by astronomers as one of the 
most important forces of nature ? Why should it not 
be the collaborator of man's intelligence to-morrow ? 



HERE we penetrate into what is, perhaps, the most 
mysterious, and certainly the least understood domain 
of thunder and lightning. 

Among all the electrical phenomena to be observed 
in the atmosphere, there is nothing stranger than those 
fireballs of which we have already spoken, and which 
in form and size recall the electric lights in our Paris 
boulevards. Curious the contrast between electricity 
tamed and civilized and electricity running wild ! 
Between the arc lights fulfilling their peaceful and 
useful function as substitutes for the sun, and these 
dread engines of destruction sowing death and havoc ! 

It is not long since the existence of these fireballs 
has been acknowledged by scientists as an actual fact. 
Until quite recent times they were regarded as the 
figment of excited imaginations, and wise men smiled at 
the wild stories of their ravages. Their reality has 
now been established, however, beyond the possibility 
of doubt. 



In shape they are not always quite spherical, though 
this is their normal appearance; and although their 
contours are usually clearly defined, they are sometimes 
encircled by a kind of luminous vapour, such as we 
often see encircling the moon. Sometimes they are 
furnished with a red flame like a fuse that has been lit. 
Sometimes their course is simply that of a falling star. 
Sometimes they leave behind them a luminous trail 
which remains visible long after they themselves have 
disappeared. They have been described as looking like 
a crouching kitten, an iron bar, a large orange so 
harmless apparently, that you were tempted to put out 
your hand to catch it. There is record of one being 
seen as large as a millstone. 

One remarkable thing about them is the slowness 
with which they move, and which sometimes enables 
their course to be watched for several minutes. In our 
first chapter we gave several instances of the occurrence 
of fireballs. Let us look at some more. Here is one 
taken from Arago's learned treatise upon thunder. 
The record is from the pen of Batti, a marine painter 
in the service of the Empress of Austria and resident 
at Milan. 

"In the month of June, 1841, I was staying at the 
Hdtel de 1'Agnello in a room on the second floor, over- 
looking the Corso dei Servi. It was about six in the 
afternoon. The rain was coming down in torrents, and 


the darkest rooms were lit up by the lightning flashes 
better than our rooms generally are by gas. Thunder 
broke out every now and again with appalling violence. 
The windows of the houses were closed, and the streets 
were deserted, for, as I have said, there was a steady 
downpour, and the main road was turned into a torrent. 
I was sitting quietly smoking, and looking out at the 
rain, which an occasional ray of sunlight set flashing 
like threads of gold, when I suddenly heard voices 
in the street calling out * Guarda, guarda ! ' * Look, 
look ! ' and at the same moment a clatter of hob-nailed 
boots. After half an hour of absolute silence, this 
noise attracted my attention. I ran to the window, 
and looking to the right, in the direction of the 
clamour, I saw a fireball making its way down the 
middle of the road on a level with my window, in a 
noticeably oblique direction, not horizontally. Eight or 
ten persons, continuing to call out ' Guarda, guarda ! ' 
kept pace with it, walking down the street, stepping 
out quickly. The meteor passed my window, and I 
had to turn to the left to see what would be the end 
of its caprice. After a moment, fearing to lose sight of 
it behind some houses which jutted out beyond my 
hotel, I went quickly downstairs and into the street, 
and was in time to see it again and to join those who 
were following its course. It was still going slowly, 
but it was now higher up, and was still ascending so 


much so that after a few minutes it hit the cross upon 
the clock tower of the Chiesa dei Servi and disappeared. 
Its disappearance was accompanied by a dull report like 
that of a big cannon twenty miles away when the wind 
carries the sound. 

" To give an idea of the size and colour of this globe 
of fire, I can only compare it to the appearance of the 
moon as one may see it sometimes rising above the 
Alps on a clear night in winter, and as I myself have 
seen it at Innsbruck that is to say, of a reddish yellow, 
with patches on it almost of red. The difference was 
that you could not see the contours of the meteor 
distinctly as you could the moon, and that it seemed 
to be enveloped in a luminous atmosphere of indefinite 

This fireball was an innocuous one. We may take 
next, by way of contrast, the case of one which wreaked 
terrible damage and loss of life. 

On July 27, 1789, at about three o'clock in the 
afternoon, a fireball of about the size of a cannon-ball, 
fell in a great hall at Feltri (Marche Trevisane) in 
which six hundred people were seated, wounded seventy 
and killed ten, putting out all the lights. 

On July 11, 1809, about eleven o'clock in the 
morning, a fireball penetrated into the church of 
Chateauneuf-les-Moustiers (Basses- Alpes) just as the 
bell was ringing and a large congregation had taken 


their seats. Nine persons were killed on the spot and 
eighty-two others were wounded. All the dogs that 
had got into the church were killed. A woman who 
was in a hut on a neighbouring hill saw three fireballs 
descend that day, and made sure they would reduce the 
village to ashes. 

Miisschenbroek recounts the following incident 
which took place at Solingen in 1711. M. Pyl, the 
Pastor at Duytsbourg, was preaching one Sunday, when 
in the middle of a storm a fireball fell into the church 
through the clock tower and exploded. The sanctuary 
was set on fire and became thick with smoke. Three 
persons were killed and more than a hundred were 

From the Bulletin of the Societe Astronomique de 
France the following narrative contributed to it by 
Mile, de Soubbotine, a member of this society, has been 
taken : 

"A terrible storm broke out at Ouralsk on May 
22, 1901. It was & fete day and the streets were 
thronged with people. Towards five in the afternoon 
some young men and girls, twenty-one in all, had 
taken refuge in the vestibule of a house, and a girl of 
seventeen, Mile. K., had sat down on the threshold, 
her back turned towards the street. Suddenly there 
was a violent clap of thunder, and in front of the door 
there appeared a dazzlingly brilliant ball of fire, 


gradually descending towards where they were all 
grouped. After touching Mile. K.'s head, who bowed 
down at once, the fireball fell on the ground in the 
middle of the party, made a circuit of it, then forcing 
its way into the room of the master of the house, whose 
boots it touched and singed, it wreaked havoc with the 
apartment, broke through the wall into a stove in the 
adjoining room, smashed the stove-pipe, and carried it 
off with such violence that it was dashed against the 
opposite wall, and went out through the broken 

" After the first feeling of fright, this is what 
transpired. The door near which Mile. K. was seated 
had been thrown back into the court, and in the 
ceiling there were two holes of about 18 centimetres 

"The young girl, still seated with her head bowed 
down, looked as though she were asleep. Some of the 
people were walking in the courtyard, having seen and 
heard nothing, and the others were all lying in the 
vestibule in a dead faint. Mile. K. was dead. The 
fireball had struck her on the nape of her neck and had 
proceeded down her back and left hip, leaving a black 
mark all along. There was a sore on one hand, with 
some blood on it, and one of her shoes was torn com- 
pletely off, and there was a small hole in one of the 


" All the victims became deaf." 

On September 10, 1845, at about two in the 
afternoon, in the course of a violent storm, a fireball 
came down the chimney into a room in a house in the 
village of Salagnac (Creuse). A child and three women 
who were in the room suffered no harm from it. Then 
it rolled into the middle of the kitchen, and passed 
near the feet of a young peasant who was standing 
in it. After which it went into an adjoining room, 
and disappeared without leaving any trace. The 
women tried to persuade the man to go in and see 
whether he could not stamp it out, but he had once 
allowed himself to be electrified in Paris, and thought 
it prudent to refrain. In a little stable hard by, it 
was found afterwards that the fireball had killed a 
pig. It had gone through the straw without setting 
fire to it. 

On July 12, 1872, a new form of fireball made its 
appearance in the Commune of Hecourt (Oise). It was 
of the size of an egg, and it was seen burning upon 
a bed. Efforts were made in vain to extinguish it, 
and presently the entire house, together with the 
neighbouring dwellings and barns, became a prey to 
the flames. 

On October 9, 1885, at 8.25 p.m., during a violent 
storm, a globe of fire of the size of a small apple was 
seen coming into a ground-floor room in a house at 


Constantinople through an open window, the family being 
at table in this room at the time. It first played 
round a gas-jet, then, moving towards the table, it 
passed between two guests, went round a lamp hanging 
over the centre of the table, and then precipitated 
itself into the street, where it exploded with an 
appalling crash, but without having caused any damage 
or hurt anybody. Not far from the scene of this 
phenomenon there are a number of buildings provided 
with lightning conductors. The fireball left no trace 
of smell behind it. 

Here is another curious narrative of a fireball. 

A party of five women took refuge during a storm 
in the entrance to a house in order to escape from the 
rain and the lightning. 

They had scarcely gained the doorway when there 
was a tremendous thunderclap which sent them flying 
backwards and two girls who had joined them 
knocked senseless by lightning in the form of a fire- 
ball. One of the girls remained unconscious for a long 
time; all the others were more or less seriously injured, 
but all recovered. The strangest circumstance in 
connection with this affair, however, still remains to be 

On the same side of the street as the passage, in 
a neighbouring house, nine or ten yards away, in a 
ground-floor room of which the door was shut, a young 

ON JUNE 10, 1905, BY M. H. RUDAUX. 

They were seen to descend in this way upon the 
lightning conductor above the Palais Koyal electric- 
power station. This engraving, after a sketch made at 
the time by M. Eudaux, appeared in La Science lllustr&e, 
for August, 1903. 

[Page 64. 


woman was working at a sewing-machine. At the 
moment of the thunderclap, she experienced a violent 
shock throughout her whole body, and a fierce burning 
sensation in the hollow of her back. It was found 
afterwards that between the shoulder-blades and also 
on her leg, she had been badly scorched, but the 
wounds quickly healed. Now, in the room of this 
victim, no trace was to be found of the passing of the 
fireball, neither on the ceiling, nor on the floor, nor on 
the walls. There was absolutely nothing to show how 
the electric fluid could have made its way in from 
the spot in which the fireball had exploded in the 
neighbouring house, separated from it by two thick 

Mysterious, is it not? The fireball seems to 
dwindle out of sight. In some cases, it seems to 
reduce itself into vapour in order to pass from one 
place to another. 

With animals these fireballs seem deadlier and more 
merciless than with human beings. 

Thus, on February 16, 1866, a thunderstorm 
descended upon a farm in the Commune of Chapelle- 
Largeau (Deux-Sevres), and the circumstances attending 
its explosion are too remarkable to be overlooked. 
After a tremendous thunderclap, a young man who 
was standing near the farm saw an immense fireball 
touch the ground at his feet, but it did him no damage, 


but passed, still harmlessly, through a room in the 
farmhouse in which there were nine persons. The only 
effect it produced was the flaring up of some matches 
upon the chimney-piece. 

It proceeded towards the stables, which were divided 
into two compartments. In one there were two cows 
and two oxen : the first cow, to the right of the entrance, 
was killed, the second was uninjured ; the first ox was 
killed, the second was uninjured. 

The same effect was found to have been produced 
in the other compartment, in which there were four 
cows ; the first and the third were killed, the second 
and fourth were spared : the odd numbers taken and 
the even numbers left. 

Similar freaks have been recorded in connection 
with piles of plates struck by lightning holes being 
found in alternate plates. How are these things to be 
explained ? 

The following story is very extraordinary, though it 
does not help to clear up the mystery of lightning's 
strange ways : 

On August 24, 1895, about ten in the morning, in 
the midst of a storm of wind and rain, several persons 
saw descending to the ground a whitish-coloured globe 
of about an inch and a half in diameter, which, on 
touching the ground, split into two smaller globes. 
These rose at once to the height of the chimneys on the 


houses close by and disappeared. One went down a 
chimney, crossed a room in which were a man and a 
child, without harming them, and went through the 
floor, perforating a brick with a clean round hole of 
about the size of a franc. Under this room there was 
a sheep-fold. The shepherd's son, seated at the door- 
way, suddenly saw a bright light shining over the flock 
of sheep, while the lambs were jumping about in alarm. 
When he went up to them, he was startled to discover 
that five sheep had been killed. They bore no trace of 
burning, or of wound of any kind, but about their lips 
was a sort of foam, slightly pink in colour. 

In the adjoining house, the second fireball had 
also gone down a chimney, and had exploded in the 
kitchen, causing great damage. 

In 1890, a young farmer was working on a plot of 
ground, two or three miles from Montfort-rAmaury. 
A storm breaking out, he stood up against his horses 
to take refuge from the rain ; moving away a few yards 
in order to get his whip, there was seen, when he re- 
turned, a ball of fire almost touching the ear of one of 
his horses. A moment later it exploded with a deafen- 
ing noise. The two horses fell one of them unable to 
get up again. The farmer himself was dashed to pieces. 

On other occasions the meteor is hardly more 
devastating than the ordinary bomb. 

On April 21, at Lanxade, near Bergerac, a storm 


had been raging already for some hours, when suddenly 
simultaneously with a small thunderclap a ball of 
fire, of the size of the opening of a sack of corn, fell 
slowly on one of the banks of the Dordogne, spoiling 
some fruit trees, and then crossing the river, it raised a 
waterspout several yards high as it went. 

It disappeared finally on the other side of a field 
of corn. 

On November 12, 1887, a very curious instance of a 
fireball was noticed on the Atlantic. 

It was at midnight, near Cape Race. An enormous 
fireball was seen to rise slowly out of the sea to the 
height of sixteen or seventeen metres. It travelled 
against the wind, and came quite near the vessel from 
which it was being watched. Then it turned towards 
the south-east and disappeared. The apparition lasted 
about five minutes. 

In July, 1902, in the course of a violent storm, and 
immediately after a loud peal of thunder, a fireball of 
about the size of a toy balloon was seen to make its 
appearance suddenly in the Rue Veron at Montmartre. 
After moving along, just above the ground, in front of 
a wine-merchant's shop, it exploded like a bomb, most 
fortunately without hurting any one, or doing any 

The little village of Candes, situated by the con- 
fluence of the Vienne and the Loire, was the scene of 


the appearance of a fireball in June, 1897. Three 
persons were sitting in the verandah of a house during 
a storm, when they suddenly saw a fireball travelling- 
past them through the air for a distance of thirty yards 
or so. Then it exploded with a loud noise, striking 
sparks from the ironworks of the verandah. At the 
same moment, the servants saw another fireball cross a 
garden at the other side of the house, and drop into 
a small pond. A gardener was knocked over, but not 

On March 6, 1894, M. Dandois, professor of surgery 
at the University of Louvain, went to the neighbouring 
town of Linden, by railway, to see a patient. On his 
return, on foot, the sky suddenly so darkened over, 
that he made for the nearest dwelling-place, avoid- 
ing, as he did so, the telegraph poles along the 
road. Suddenly a ball of fire came against him 
and threw him over a ditch into a field, where he lay 

A quarter of an hour later, having regained his 
senses and finding himself undamaged save for a 
numbness in one arm and one leg, the doctor set out 
again, congratulating himself on the fact that his 
umbrella had acted as a sort of portable lightning 
conductor, for the steels were all twisted, and showed 
signs of having borne the brunt of the fray. Had the 
handle been of steel also, the electric current would 


have run down it into his hand, doubtless, and killed 

On another occasion a fireball fell upon the door of 
a house, pushed it violently open, and made its way 
into the kitchen. 

At the sight of this strange visitor, the cook 
bolted from the room. A sempstress, who was at 
work near the window, received a small burn on her 
forehead, of about the size of half a franc, with a 
slight weal a couple of inches long like the tail of 
a comet. 

After bursting, the fireball made its way up the 
chimney, from which it removed a mass of soot, smelling 
somewhat of sulphur. 

Here is an instance more curious still 

A violent storm was raging near Marseilles, when 
seven persons, seated together in the ground-floor 
drawing-room of a country house, saw a fireball as big 
as a plate appear in their midst. 

It directed its course towards a young girl of 
eighteen, who, frightened out of her life, had fallen on 
her knees. Touching her shoes, it rebounded to the 
ceiling, then came down to her feet again, and so on 
two or three times, with mysterious regularity, the girl 
experiencing, it seems, no other sensation than that of 
a slight cramp in her .legs. Eventually the fireball 
made its exit from the room through a keyhole ! 


The girl could not get up at once after it had gone. 
For a fortnight or so she could not walk without 
assistance, and it was two years before she got over a 
liability to sudden weakness in her legs, causing her 
suddenly to fall. 

It is strange to reflect that these diminutive fire- 
balls, produced by the actual atmosphere we breathe, 
are less understood by us than that enormous globe 
which we call the sun, and to which is due the flowering 
of the entire life of our planet. If we are still in doubt 
as to the nature of the sun's spots, at least we have 
been able to analyse its own elements. And we know 
its dimensions, its weight, its distance from us, its rate 
of rotation, etc., etc. 

Yet these electric spheres that make their escape 
from the clouds in times of storm, baffle our investiga- 
tions altogether. 

According to records which seem authentic, fire- 
balls have been seen actually to come into existence 
upon the surface of a ceiling, at the mouth of a well, 
and upon the flagstones of a church. 

In 1713, at the chateau of Fosdinaro, in the neigh- 
bourhood of Massa Carrara, in the course of a storm 
and heavy downpour of rain, there was seen to appeal- 
suddenly upon the ground a very vivid flame, white and 
blue in colour. It seemed to flare fiercely, but did not 
move apparently from the one spot, and after growing 


quickly in volume it suddenly disappeared. Simultane- 
ously with its going, one of the observers felt a curious 
sort of tickling behind his shoulder, moving upwards ; 
several bits of plaster from the ceiling under which he 
stood fell upon his head, and there was a sudden crash 
quite unlike an ordinary thunderclap. 

In 1750, on the 2nd of July, at about three in the 
afternoon, the Abbe Richard happened to be in the 
church of St. Michel at Dijon during a storm. 
" Suddenly,"" he tells us, " I saw between two pillars of 
the nave a bright red flame floating in the air about 
three feet above the floor. Presently it rose to a height 
of twelve or fifteen feet, increasing in volume. Then, 
after having moved some yards to one side, while still 
rising diagonally to the height almost of the wood- 
work of the organ, it disappeared at last with an 
explosion like the report of a cannon." 

On July 21, 1745, a violent storm broke out in 
Boulogne, and the tower of a convent was struck by a 
fireball. It was of great size, and was seen to emerge 
from one of the sewers of the town and to move along 
the surface of the road until it hit against this tower, 
of which a part subsided. No one was hurt. A nun 
affirmed that some years before she had seen just such 
another fireball emerge from the same spot and pre- 
cipitate itself with a crash against the summit of the 
tower without doing any damage. 


In the middle of a violent storm, Dr. Gardons saw 
several fireballs flying in different directions, not far 
from the ground, making a crackling sort of noise. 
One of them was seen by witnesses to come out of an 
excavation full of stagnant water. They killed one 
man, several animals, and did much damage to the 
trees and houses in the vicinity. 

In February, 1767, at Fresbourg, a blue, conical 
flame escaped suddenly with a detonating noise from a 
brasier, breaking it to pieces, and scattering the glowing 
cinders all around. It then went twisting about the 
room, burnt the face and hands of a child, escaped 
partly through the window, partly through the door, 
broke into a thousand pieces a second brasier in 
another room, and disappeared finally up a chimney, 
carrying up with it and discharging from the chimney- 
top into the street several hams which had been hung 
under the chimney-piece. For several days afterwards 
the atmosphere of the house retained a smell of 

In some cases, fireballs have been seen to come 
down from the sky apparently, and then, after almost 
reaching but not actually touching the ground, to 
ascend again. Thus on a hot day in summer 1837, 
M. Hapoule, a landed proprietor in the department of 
the Moselle, standing in front of the entrance to his 
stables under the shelter of a porch during a storm, 


saw a fireball about the size of an orange moving in 
the direction of a dung-heap not far from him. But 
instead of going right into it, it stopped about a yard 
off, and changing its route, it went off at an angle, 
keeping the same level for some distance, when it 
suddenly seemed to change its mind again, and rose 
perpendicularly till it disappeared in the clouds. 

These sudden changes, as we have seen, are strangely 
characteristic of the habits of fireballs. 

The Garde Champetre of the village of Lalande de 
Libourne (Gironde) was traversing the country one 
evening about half-past ten, engaged in organizing 
a garde de surveillance, when he suddenly found 
himself surrounded by a bright and penetrating light. 
Astonished, he looked behind him, and saw a fireball, 
just broken loose from a cloud, descending quickly to 
the ground. 

The light vanished presently, but he made his way 
towards where the fireball seemed to be falling. When 
he had gone about two hundred yards, he saw another 
brilliant light breaking out from the top of a tree and 
spreading itself into a sheaf of rays, every point of 
which seemed to emit electric sparks. 

At the end of a quarter of an hour the light became 
weaker, and then disappeared. The tree was afterwards 
cut down, and it was found that the lightning had gone 
down the centre to a distance of three yards, and had 


then passed down outside to the soil, leaving trace of a 
semi-circular route; and finally, after rising again on 
the opposite side of the tree to a height of four yards, 
tearing off two narrow strips of bark, had disappeared. 
At the foot of the tree a small hole, about an inch and 
a quarter in diameter, retained a certain degree of 
warmth for an hour and a half afterwards. 

Fireballs often keep within the frontiers of cloud- 
land. They may be seen passing sometimes from one 
cloud to another in the high regions of the atmosphere. 

On September 22, 1813, at seven in the evening, 
M. Louis Ordinaire saw a fireball leave a cloud at 
the zenith the sky being very much lowering at the 
time and go towards another. It was of a reddish- 
yellow and extremely brilliant, lighting up the ground 
with a bright radiance. 

He was able to follow its movements for at least a 
minute, and then saw it disappear into the second 
cloud. There was an explosion followed by a dull 
sound like the firing off of a cannon in the distance. 

After a violent storm which broke out near Wake- 
field on March 1, 1774, there remained only two clouds 
in the sky, just above the horizon. Balls of fire were 
observed gliding from the higher of the two into the 
lower, like falling stars. 

In high mountainous districts in the Alps, for 
instance you may often look down from above upon 


a storm. It is fascinating thus to watch the grandiose 
spectacle of the elements at war. Here from the pen 
of Pere Lozeran du Fesch is a striking picture of such 
a scene 

" It was on the 2nd of September, 1716, about three 
o'clock in the afternoon. A traveller was making his 
way down towards Vic from the summit of Cantal, 
accompanied by a guide. 

"The weather was calm and very warm, but down 
below, about the middle of the mountain, a vast sea of 
mist stretched out in wavelike clouds. 

" These clouds were furrowed continually by lightning 
flashes, some going quite straight, some zigzag, some 
taking the shape of fireballs. When the two men 
came near this region of clouds, the mist grew so 
thick they could hardly see the bridles of their horses. 

" The air became gradually more cold and the 
darkness more dense as they proceeded downwards. 
Now they were in the midst of the fireballs flying in 
every direction all round them, revolving as they went, 
reddish in colour, like saffron lit up. 

" They were of all sizes some quite small on their 
first appearance, seeming to grow immensely in volume 
in a few moments. Drops of rain fell when they 
passed. Up to this point the sight had been curious 
but not terrifying, but suddenly now, one of these 
fireballs, about two feet in diameter, burst open near 


the traveller and emitted streams of a bright and 
beautiful light in every direction, and there was a dull 
report followed by a tremendous crash. The two men 
were much shaken and the air all round them seemed 
polluted. After a minute or two, however, all trace of 
the explosion had been dissipated, and they proceeded 
on their way." 

On January 6, 1850, near Merlan, about six 
in the afternoon, a fireball burst above the heads 
of two men, enveloping them in a bluish light, with- 
out hurting them or even damaging their clothes, but 
giving them a momentary thrill as from an electric 
battery. It left no traces of any kind, not even a 

Mr. G. M. Ryan records an instance which he 
witnessed at Karachi in Scinde. While in his drawing- 
room one day with two friends who were taking refuge 
from a storm, he rose from his chair and went to the 
door to open it, the windows as well as the door being 
shut at the time. Returning, he saw in the air and 
between his friends, a ball of fire of about the size of a 
full moon. At the same time there was a terrible 
clap of thunder. Two of the spectators were slightly 
wounded ; one felt a sharp pain on the left side of the 
face, the other, a sensation in one arm with a feeling as 
if his hair were burning. There was a strong smell of 
sulphur. In the next room there were two rifles in a 


case; one was intact but the other was broken, and 
there was a hole in the wall at the point where the 
muzzle leant against it, and there were two holes in the 
same wall a story higher. 

On Sunday, August 19, 1900, several people were 
assembled in a room in the chateau of the Baron de 
France at Maintenay (Pas-de-Calais), when there was a 
violent storm raging over the country. 

Suddenly there appeared in the midst of the eleven 
people who were there, a globe of blue fire about the 
size of an infant's head, which quietly crossed the 
room, touching four people on its way. None of 
them were injured. An awful explosion was heard 
at the moment when the electric ball disappeared 
through an open door in front of the great stair- 

On August 3, 1809, a fireball struck the house of 
a Mr. David Sutton, not far from Newcastle-on-Tyne. 
Eight people were having tea in the drawing-room 
when a violent clap of thunder knocked down the 

Immediately after they saw on the ground, at the 
door opposite the fireplace, the brilliant visitor which 
announced itself in the sonorous voice of Jupiter the 
thunderer. It remained discreetly at the entrance of 
the room, no doubt waiting for the sign to advance. 
No one making a move, it came into the middle of the 


room, and there burst with a crash, throwing out fiery 
grains like aeroliths. 

The spectacle must have been magnificent but, we 
must acknowledge, rather disquieting. 

On September 27, 1772, at Besanfon, a voluminous 
fireball crossed over a corn-shop and the ward of a 
hospital full of nurses and children. This time again 
the lightning was merciful it spared nurses and 
children, and went and drowned itself in the Doubs. 

Nearly thirty years before, in July, 1744, it showed 
the same regard for an honest German peasant woman. 
She was occupied in the kitchen superintending the 
family meal, when, after a terrible clap of thunder, she 
saw a fireball the size of a fist come down the 
chimney, pass between her feet without hurting her, 
and continue on its course without burning or even 
upsetting the spinning-wheel and other objects on the 

Much frightened, the young woman tried to escape ; 
she threw herself towards the door and opened it, when 
the fireball at once followed her, played about her 
feet, went into the next room, which opened out-of- 
doors, crossed it, and through the door into the 

It went round the yard, entered a barn by an open 
door, climbed the wall opposite, and reaching the edge 
of the roof, burst with such a terrific noise that the 


peasant woman fainted. The barn at once took fire 
and was reduced to cinders. 

Towards the middle of the last century, March 3, 
1835, the steeple of Crailsheim was set on fire by light- 
ning. The guardian's daughter, aged twenty years, was 
at this moment in her room and had her back turned 
to the window, when her young brother saw a fireball 
enter by the window-sill and descend on to his sister's 
back, giving her a sudden shock all over her body. The 
young girl then saw at her feet a quantity of small 
flames, which went towards the kitchen, the door of 
which had been opened, and set fire to a pile of mossy 
wood. There was no further damage than this attempt 
at incendiarism, which was easily extinguished. 

Occasionally a fireball seems to take a malignant 
pleasure in hurling itself like a fury against lightning 
conductors ; but instead of quietly impaling itself like 
the linear lightning, and breathing its last sigh in a 
prolonged roar, it struggles, and comes forth victorious 
from this curious contest. 

There are many cases of fireballs playing about the 
lightning conductors without being caught. 

In 1777, a fireball shot from the clouds on to the 
point of the lightning conductor on the Observatory of 
Padua. The conductor, which consisted of an iron 
chain, was broken at its junction with the stem. 
However, it sent on the discharge. 


Some years later, in 1792, a huge ball of lightning 
struck one of the two conductors on the house of 
M. Haller at Villiers la Garenne. This conductor was 
much injured by the audacious assailant, and so was the 
framework of the house ; the keen fluid had damaged 
the metallic gutters. 

At this point I must add that lightning conductors 
are of recent creation. Nor would it be surprising 
if there were defective ones which could not assure an 
efficient protection. 

However, much later, on December 20, 1845, the 
same phenomenon was observed at the chateau of 
Bortyvon, near Vire. There, again, the fireball, 
ignoring the danger to which it was exposing itself, 
flung itself on a lightning conductor placed in the 
centre of the chateau. It was spared, but the chateau 
suffered greatly. The electric ball descended from both 
sides of the metallic stem, causing a great deal of 
damage along its path. On touching the ground it 
expanded, and many persons affirm that they saw 
what was like a huge cask of fire rolling along the 

In truth, ball lightning seems in a certain measure 
to escape the influence of lightning conductors. 

On September 4, 1903, towards ten o'clock in 
the evening, M. Laurence Rotch, director of the 
Observatory of Blue Hill (U.S.), happening to be in 


Paris, made the following curious observation from the 
Rond-point of the Champs Elyse'es. 

Looking in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, he 
saw the summit of the edifice struck by white lightning 
coming from the zenith. At the same moment a fire- 
ball, less dazzling than the lightning, slowly descended 
from the summit to the second platform. It appeared 
to be about one yard in diameter, and to be situated 
in the middle of the tower, taking less than two 
seconds to cover a distance of about 100 yards. Then 
it disappeared. The next day the observer ascertained, 
on visiting the tower, that it had actually been struck 
by lightning twice on the previous day. 

It is to be noted that the meteor did not follow 
the conductor; but, after all, is not the whole tower 
itself the most powerful conductor imaginable ? Would 
not the enormous masses of iron used in its con- 
struction neutralize the attraction of the thin metallic 
rods, effectual for the protection of ordinary buildings, 
but incapable, one would think, of competing with the 
attractive force of this immense metallic framework ? 

Here are some cases where globular lightning has 
struck bells or telegraph wires, which it has followed 
with docility. 

Several times it has been seen poised like a bird 
on a telegraph wire near a railway-station, and has 
then quietly disappeared. 


Photograph taken June 3, 1902, at 9.20 p.m., by M. G. Loppe. Published in the Bulletin 
ile la Societe Astronomique <le France (May, 1905). [_f' a ff e 82. 


We see that it is not absolutely inimical to points, 
nor to metals, but it prefers its independence, and 
he must get up early who would catch it in a snare. 

It is an anarchist it acknowledges no rule. 

But we must confess that if spheroidal lightning 
seems particularly capricious, it is because we are still 
ignorant of the laws which guide it. Our ignorance 
alone is the cause of the mystery. 

We try to discover the enigma in the silence of 
the laboratories, where physicians question science 
without ceasing ; we try to reproduce fireballs arti- 
ficially, but the problem is complicated, and its 
solution presents enormous difficulties. 

Hypotheses are not wanting. Some years ago, M. 
Stephane Leduc recorded an interesting experiment, 
producing a moving globular spark. 

When two very fine and highly polished metallic 
points, each in affinity with one of the poles of an 
electro-static machine, rest perpendicularly on the 
sensitive face of a gelatine bromide of silver photo- 
graphic plate, which is placed on a metallic leaf, the 
two points being 5 to 10 centimetres the one from 
the other, an effluvium is produced round the positive 
point, while at the negative point a luminous globule 
is formed. 

When this globule has reached a sufficient size, 
you can see it detach itself from the point, which 


ceases to be luminous, begin to move forward slowly 
on the plate, make a few curves, and then set off for 
the positive point ; when it reaches this, the effluvium 
is extinguished, all luminous phenomenon ceases, and 
the machine acts as if its two poles were united by 
a conductor. 

The speed with which the luminous globe moves 
is very slight. It takes from one to four minutes to 
cover a distance of 5 to 6 centimetres. Sometimes, 
before reaching the positive point, the globe bursts 
into two or more luminous globules, which individually 
continue their journey towards the positive point. 

On developing the plate, you will find traced on it 
the route followed by the globule, the point of ex- 
plosion, the routes resulting from the division, the 
effluvium round the positive point. Also, if you stop 
the experiment before the arrival of the globule at 
the positive point, the photograph will only give the 
route to that point. 

The globule makes its course the conductor. If 
during its journey you were to throw powder on the 
plate sulphur, for example the course it followed will 
be marked by a line of little aigrettes, looking like a 
luminous rosary. 

Of all the known electric phenomena, this is the 
most analogous with globular lightning. 

But the really complicated part of the question 


[Page 84. 


[Page 84. 


is when ball lightning loses part of its fluidity and 
becomes a semi-solid body, as in the following 
instance : 

On April 24, 1887, a storm burst over Mortree 
(Orne), and the lightning literally chopped the tele- 
graph wire on the route to Argentan for a distance 
of 150 yards. The pieces were so calcinated that 
they might have been under the fire of a forge ; 
some of the longer ones 'were bent and their sections 
welded together. The lightning entered by the door 
of a stable in the form of a fireball, and came near 
a person who was preparing to milk a cow ; then it 
passed between the legs of the animal, and disappeared 
without causing any damage. The terrified cow raised 
itself on its hind legs with frantic bellowing, and its 
master ran away, frightened out of his wits, but 
there was no harm done. 

The inexplicable phenomenon was that at the 
precise moment when the lightning crossed the stable, 
a great quantity of incandescent stones fell before a 
neighbouring house. " Some of these fragments, of 
the size of nuts," wrote the Minister of Post and 
Telegraphs at the Academy, "are of a not very 
thick material, of a greyish- white, and easily broken 
by the fingers, giving forth a characteristic odour of 
sulphur. The others, which are smaller, are exactly 
like coke. 


"It would perhaps be useful to say here, that 
during this storm the thunderclaps were not pre- 
ceded by the ordinary muttering, they burst quickly 
like the discharge of musketry, and succeeded one 
another at short intervals. Hail fell in abundance, 
and the temperature was very low." 

It is only by a semblance of disbelief that one can 
get the peasants to tell us the stories of what they 
pretend to have seen of the fall of aeroliths during 
storms. They have christened the uranoliths " thunder- 
stones. 1 ' 

These substances have evidently no relation to 
uranoliths, but they prove none the less that 
ponderable matter may accompany the fall of light- 

Here are two more examples 

In the month of August, 1885, a storm burst over 
Sotteville (Seine-Inferieure) ; lightning furrowed the 
sky, the thunder muttered, and the rain fell in torrents. 
Suddenly, in the Rue Pierre Corneille, several small 
balls, about the size of a common pea, were seen to 
fall ; these burned on touching the ground, sending 
out a little violet flame. People counted more than 
twenty, and one of the spectators, on putting her foot 
on one of them, produced a fresh flame. They left 
no trace on the ground. 

On August 25, 1880, in Paris, during a rather 


violent storm, in broad daylight, M. A. Trecul, of 
the Institute, saw a very brilliant voluminous body, 
yellowish-white, and rather long in shape, being 
apparently 35 to 40 centimetres in length, by about 
25 in width, with slightly conical ends. 

This body was only visible for a few seconds ; it 
seemed to disappear and re-enter a cloud, but in 
departing and this is the chief point it dropped 
a little substance, which fell vertically like a heavy 
body under the sole influence of gravity. It left a 
trail of light behind it, at the edges of which could 
be seen sparks, or rather red globules, because their 
light did not flash. Near the falling substance the 
luminous trail was almost vertical, while in the further 
part it was sinuous. The small substance divided in 
falling, and the light went out soon after, when it was 
on the point of reaching the tops of the houses. 
When it was disappearing, and at the moment of the 
division, no noise was heard, although the cloud was 
not far away. 

This fact incontestably proves the presence of 
ponderable matter in clouds, which is not violently 
projected by an explosion in the bolis, nor accompanied 
by a noisy electric discharge. 

We are still far from understanding the interesting 
problem of the formation and nature of ball lightning. 
Instead of denying it, men of science ought to study 


it, because it is certainly one of the most remarkable 
of the curiosities of atmospheric electricity. 

We must begin by finding out the exact facts, which 
are extraordinary enough to captivate our attention. 
The theories will follow. 



THE destructive work of lightning in every form is 
immense. A formidable and invisible world skirts the 
earth an enchanted world, more wonderful than any 
Eastern legend an unknown ocean, whose immaterial 
presence is constantly brought before us by the most 
fearful electric conflagrations. 

Even to-day the brilliancy of lightning hides itself 
from us in the darkness of impenetrable mystery. But 
we feel that there is an immeasurable power, an un- 
imaginable force which rules us. 

We are, in fact, but puny beings in comparison 
with this magic force, and the ancients were wise when 
they made the King of the Gods responsible for the 
actions of lightning. He alone in His splendour and 
sovereignty could exercise such an empire over our 
modest planet above all, over man's imagination. 

Science slowly follows the centuries in their ascend- 
ing march towards progress. At present our knowledge 
of ball lightning is limited, and we have only the 



principal facts of nature to contribute to the elucida- 
tion of the problem. 

In increasing our observations, and in comparing 
those which are analogous, we may hope, if not to 
arrive at an immediate conclusion, at least to help in 
the work of discovering what laws govern this subtle 
and imponderable fluid. 

Here it will strike a man dead without leaving a 
trace ; there it will only attack the clothes and in- 
sinuate itself as far as the skin without even grazing it. 
It will burn the lining of a garment, and leave the 
material of which it is made intact. Sometimes it 
profits by the bewilderment caused by its dazzling light 
to entirely undress a person, and leave him naked and 
inanimate, but with no external wound, not even a 

We find as many peculiarities as facts. 

Some of the actions of lightning remind one of the 
fantastic stories of Hoffmann and Edgar Poe, but 
nature is more wonderful than the imagination of man, 
and lightning remains supreme in its phantasmagoria. 

Thunder seems to play with the ignorance of man ; 
its crimes and jests would have been ascribed to the 
devil in olden days. We submit to the effects without 
being able to determine the cause which directs them. 

It would seem as if lightning were a subtle being 
a medium between the unconscious force which lives in 


plants and the conscious force in animals. It is like an 
elemental spirit, keen, capricious, malicious or stupid, 
far-seeing or blind, wilful or indifferent, passing from 
one extreme to another, and of a unique and terrifying 
character. We see it twisting into space, moving with 
astonishing dexterity among men, appearing and dis- 
appearing with the rapidity ... of lightning ... it is 
impossible to define its nature. 

At all events, it is a great mistake to trifle with it. 
It means running great risks. It resents being inter- 
fered with, and those who try to probe into its domain 
are generally rather cruelly put in their place. 

It was an indiscretion of this kind which cost Dr. 
Richmann his life. 

He had fixed an insulated iron rod from the roof of 
his house to his laboratory ; this conducted the atmo- 
spheric electricity to him, and he measured its intensity 
every day. On August 6, 1753, in the middle of a 
violent storm, he was keeping at a distance from the 
rod in order to avoid the powerful sparks, and was 
waiting for the time to measure it, when, his engraver 
entering suddenly, he took a few steps towards him 
which brought him too near the conductor. A globe 
of blue fire, the size of a fist, struck him on the head 
and stretched him stone dead. 

This beginning to the study of physics was hardly 


The visitations of lightning are so numerous that it 
would naturally be impossible to describe them all in 
this small collection. We must, therefore, choose among 
them, but here we encounter a great difficulty. Among 
the thousands of tours de force and of dexterity accom- 
plished by lightning, which should we take and which 
leave ? The selection is very difficult, as it means 
leaving out a large number of curious examples with a 
good many very interesting observations. 

We will choose the most important those of which 
the authenticity appears incontestable, and which con- 
tain the most precise details. We will group together 
those among them which present points of resemblance. 
This approximate classification will give us a sufficiently 
complete picture for the harmony of this study. 

One of the most astonishing actions of lightning is 
certainly that of leaving the victim in the very attitude 
in which he was surprised by death. 

Cardan gives an extraordinary example of this 

In the course of a violent storm, eight reapers, who 
were taking their meal under an oak, were struck, all 
eight of them, by the same flash of lightning, the 
noise of which could be heard a long way off. When 
the passers-by approached to see what had happened, 
the reapers thus suddenly petrified by death, appeared 

to be continuing their peaceful meal. One held his 
glass, another was carrying the bread to his mouth, a 
third had his hand on the dish. Death had seized 
them all in the position which they occupied when the 
explosion occurred. 

We hear of many similar cases to this. 
Here is one of a young woman who no doubt was 
struck by lightning in the position in which she was 
found after the accident. It was during a violent 
storm on July 16, 1866; she was alone in the house 
at Saint-Romain-les-Atheux (Loire), and outside the 
thunder rolled fearfully. When her parents came 
back from the fields, they found a sad sight. The 
young woman had been killed by lightning. They 
found her kneeling in a corner of the room with her 
head buried in her hands ; she had no trace of a wound. 
Her child of four months, who was in bed in the same 
room, was only lightly touched. 

Quite recently, on May 24, 1904, at Charolles 
(Saone-et-Loire), a certain Mile. Moreau, who lived at 
Lesmes, was waiting for the end of a storm in a grocer's 
shop where she had been making some purchases. 
Several people were gathered round the fireplace. They 
felt a great movement following a violent clap of 
thunder. The sensation having passed, every one pre- 
pared to go. Mile. Moreau alone remained seated, and 
did not move. She had been struck by the fluid, which 


had made a hole under her right ear and come out by 
the left ! 

The petrifying action of the electric fluid is so 
rapid that horsemen who have been struck have re- 
mained on horseback and been carried a long way from 
the place of the accident without being unsaddled. 

According to Abbe Richard, towards the end of 
the eighteenth century, the procurator of the Seminary 
of Troyes was coming home on horseback when he was 
struck by lightning. A brother who followed him, 
not perceiving this, thought that he was asleep when 
he saw him reeling. When he tried to awaken him, 
he found he was dead. 

The following observation is very remarkable on 
account of the special attitudes preserved by the bodies 
which had been struck : 

A vessel which was at Port Mahon was struck at 
the time when the crew were dispersed over the yards 
to furl the sails. Fifteen sailors who were scattered on 
the bowsprit were killed or burned in the twinkling of 
an eye. Some were thrown into the water ; others, bent 
dead across the yard-arm, remained in the position they 
had occupied before the accident. 

Often the corpses of people who have been struck 
have been found either sitting or standing. 

At the approach of a storm a vine-dresser was 
seated under a nut tree which was planted near a 


hedge : soon afterwards, when it had ceased raining 
and the thunder was quiet, his two sisters, who had 
been taking shelter under the hedge, saw him sit- 
ting, and called to him to go back to work, but he 
did not reply ; on going up to him, they found him 

In 1853, in the neighbourhood of Asti, a priest who 
was struck while dining remained in his place. 

In 1698, a ship was struck at about four o'clock in 
the morning, not far from Saint-Pierre. At daybreak 
a sailor was found sitting stone dead at the bow of the 
ship, with his eyes open and the whole body in such 
a natural attitude that he seemed to be alive. He had 
suffered no injury either external or internal. 

Dr. Boudin describes a still more surprising case. 
A woman was struck while she was in the act of 
plucking a poppy. The body was found standing, only 
slightly bent and with the flower still in her hand. It 
is hard to understand how a human body could remain 
standing, slightly bent, without a support to prevent 
its falling. This case is a contradiction to all the laws 
of equilibrium. But with such a fantastic agent as that 
with which we are dealing, nothing is surprising we 
may expect anything. Thus 

On August 2, 1862, lightning struck the entrance 
pavilion of the Prince Eugene barracks in Paris just 
when the soldiers were going to bed. All those who 


were lying down suddenly found themselves standing, 
and those who were standing were thrown on the ground. 

In the preceding examples the victims struck dead 
are not disfigured by the fulgurant force. They pre- 
serve a deceptive appearance of life. The catastrophe 
is so sudden that the face has no time to assume a sad 
expression. No contraction of the muscles reveals a 
transition in the passage of life and death. The eyes 
and mouth are open as though in a state of watching. 
When the colour of the flesh is preserved, the illusion 
is complete. But when we approach these statues of 
flesh so lately animated with vital fire, now mummified 
by celestial fire we are surprised on touching them to 
find that they crumble to ashes. 

The garments are intact, the body presents no 
difference, it keeps the attitude it had at the supreme 
moment, but it is entirely burnt, consumed. Thus 

At Vic-sur-Aisne (Aisne) in 1838, in the middle of 
a violent storm, three soldiers took shelter under a 
lime tree. Lightning struck them all dead at one blow. 
All the same, they all three remained standing in their 
original positions as though they had not been touched 
by the electric fluid : their clothes were intact ! After 
the storm some passers-by noticed them, spoke to them 
without receiving an answer, and went up to touch 
them, when they fell pulverized into a heap of ashes. 

This experience is not unique, and even the ancients 


remarked that people who were struck crumbled to 

Here is a similar case, no less curious 

On June 13, 1893, at Rodez, a shepherd named 
Desmazes, seeing that a storm was threatening, collected 
his beasts and drove them quickly towards the farm. 
When he was just there, he was struck by lightning. 
His body, which was completely incinerated, preserved 
a natural appearance. 

It is by this complete incineration and the probable 
volatilization of the cinders that certain authors ex- 
plain the sudden disappearance of some of those who 
have been struck. 

Legend attributes the mysterious death of Romulus 
to a similar cause. According to Livy, the illustrious 
founder of Rome was reviewing his army in a plain 
near the marsh of Capra. Suddenly a storm accom- 
panied by violent claps of thunder enveloped the 
king in a cloud so thick that it hid him from sight. 
From that moment Romulus was seen no more on 

It is true, Livy adds, that some of the witnesses 
suspected the senators of having torn him to pieces : 
kings have sometimes been subject to all kinds of 
surprises on the part of their " courtiers." 

In most cases the electric matter produces burns 
more or less severe. These, when they do not attack 



the whole organism as in the preceding examples, are 
localized to certain parts of the body. Sometimes they 
are quite superficial and only attack the epidermis. 
Often without absolute carbonization, they penetrate 
deep into the flesh and cause death after the most 
fearful suffering. 

Here are some examples of different sorts of burns 
In 1865, in the Rue Pigalle in Paris, a man had 
his eyes burnt by lightning. 

A young soldier of the 27th Battalion of Chasseurs 
was armed, mounting guard at the Col de Soda. It 
was in the month of July, 1900. Suddenly he was 
surrounded by the dazzling glare of lightning, 
which was almost immediately succeeded by an awful 
explosion of thunder. The sentinel, leaving his arms, 
fell backwards screaming. People ran to him, and 
saw that the fluid, attracted by the point of the 
bayonet, had struck it, and, gliding down, the metal 
had burnt his feet rather severely. 

At Malines, in Belgium, a mill was reduced to 
splinters by the fire of heaven. The miller and two 
of his customers were there at the time of the accident. 
Not one of the three men was killed, but the miller 
was seriously burnt in the head, on the chin and the 
cheeks. He was deaf and blind for twenty-four hours. 
One of the others was burned in the hands. 

On June 19, 1903, at about six in the evening, 


during a bad storm, five farmers were crossing the 
Champ de Gentillerie near Saint-Servan, in order to 
take shelter. Three of them were walking abreast, 
the two others, of whom one was leading an ass, were 
some paces behind, when suddenly the five men and the 
ass were thrown on the ground by a violent clap of 
thunder. Three of the farmers, recovering their con- 
sciousness after the shock, observed that their two 
companions were struck ; the head of one was car- 
bonized, and the left side of the other was burnt as 
though by a red-hot iron. 

Another phenomenon, no less appalling 

A woman who was struck had her leg so horribly 
burnt that, on removing the stocking, some particles of 
flesh adhered to it. From the knee to the end of the 
foot the skin was black as though carbonized, and the 
whole surface was covered with a species of blister full 
of a sero-purulent liquid. The burns were very serious 
but not mortal, and were localized in the leg. 

Lightning also sometimes produces wounds which 
are more or less severe. It perforates the bones. The 
injuries it causes are similar to those inflicted by fire- 

It can also cause partial or total paralysis, the loss 
of speech or sight, temporary or permanent. Its action 
is manifold on the human organism. 

A more extraordinary phenomenon still is that 


people who are struck show no sign of the slightest 
injury on a minute medical examination. The 
ancients remarked this, as we see in the charming 
passage from Plutarch : " Lightning struck them dead 
without leaving any mark on the bodies nor any 
wound or 'burn their souls fled from their bodies in 
fright, like a bird which escapes from its cage.' 1 

We have already spoken of the smell of fulminated 
air and of ozone. In some cases there is more than 

On June 29, 1895, lightning struck a low house 
at Moulins in the course of a violent storm. The 
fluid, eccentric as usual, attacked the outer chimney, 
the bricks of which were loose and projected slightly. 
It broke some tiles on the roof, the length of one 
rafter, and inside the corn-loft it broke the wooden 
handle of an iron rake to splinters. On the ground 
floor, bricks were both loosened and torn out near 
where the pipe of the stove went into the wall of 
the chimney-piece. 

A dozen plates were broken in a cupboard to the 
left of the hearth, and a woman who happened to be 
near it at the time of the explosion, said she had felt 
her legs warmed by the burning air which came from 
the cupboard. The room was afterwards filled with a 
thick infected smoke, a veritable poison. 

Sometimes the victims are nearly asphyxiated by 


the fulminic effluvium, and only owe their preservation 
to the extreme care which is lavished on them. 

Very often the bodies and the clothes of people 
who have been struck give forth a nauseous smell 
generally similar to that of burning sulphur. 

In the month of August, 1879, a woman who had 
been struck at Montoulieu, in the Champ Descubert 
quarter, had her skull perforated as though a big ball 
had passed through it, and her burnt clothes gave forth 
insupportable emanations. 

Dr. Minonzio relates how three persons were 
wounded by lightning on board the Austrian frigate 
The Medee. "I remember," he says, "the sensation 
which was caused in the locality by the stench which 
came from the bodies and clothes of these people who 
were struck a stench nearly as offensive as that of 
burnt sulphur mingled with empyreumatical oil. 11 

One of the most frequent and good-natured effects 
of lightning on man is to shave his hair and beard, 
to scorch them, or even to depilate the whole 

Generally the victim may consider himself lucky if 
he leaves a handful of hair as a ransom to the lightning, 
and escapes with a fright. 

There is even a case given of a young girl of 
twenty who had her hair cut as though by a razor, 
without perceiving it or feeling the least shock. 


On May 7, 1885, two men who were in a 
windmill were struck by lightning. They were both 
struck deaf, and the hair and beard and eyebrows of 
one were burnt. In addition to this, their clothes 
crumbled to the touch. 

A man, who must have been very hairy, was struck 
by lightning near Aix. The electric current raised 
the hairs of his body in ridges from the breast to the 
feet, rolled them into pellets, and incrusted them 
deeply in the calf of the leg. 

Very often the injury to the hair, instead of being 
spread all over the body, limits itself to certain places 
where it is thicker or damper on the body of a man, 
and more especially on that of a woman. Here are 
some curious examples. 

In Dr. Sestier's learned work, vol. ii. p. 45, we read 
the following case observed at Montpellier : 

"Accidit apud Monspelienses ut fulmen cadens in 
domum vicarii generalis de Grassi pudendum puellae 
ancillae pilos abraserit ut Bartassius in muliere sibi 
familiari olim factum fuisse. 11 

Toaldo Richard has described similar experiences, 
and d'Hombres Firmas has described several others : 

A number of people were assembled at Mas-Lacoste, 
near Nimes, when lightning penetrated to where they 
were. A girl of twenty-six was thrown over and became 
unconscious ; when she came to her senses, she could 

hardly support herself or walk, and felt a great deal of 
pain in the centre of her body. When she was alone 
with her friends, they examined her, and they saw " non 
sine miratione pudendum perustum ruberrimum, labia 
tumefacta pilos deficientes usque ad bulbum punctosque 
nigros pro pilis, inde cutim rugosissimam ; ejus referunt 
amicae primum barbatissimam et hoc facto semper 
imberbem esse." 

Lightning is indeed a joker, but so it has always 

In most cases the hair grows again, but sometimes 
the system is completely destroyed, and the victim 
must either wear a wig or go bald. 

We have already spoken further back of the case of 
Dr. Gaultier, of Claubry, who was struck one day by 
globular lightning, near Blois, and had his beard shaved 
off and destroyed for ever ; it never grew again. He 
nearly died of a curious malady, his head swelled to 
the size of a metre and a half in circumference. 

We also hear of corpses of people who have been 
struck, which show no other injury than a complete or 
partial epilation. 

For example, a woman who was struck in the road 
had the hair completely pulled out of the top of her 

On July 25, 1900, a farm servant, Pierre Roux, 
was killed while in the act of loading a waggon of hay. 


The only trace the lightning left behind it was to 
completely scorch the beard of its victim. 

Now, here is a case the complete opposite of the 
preceding ones and still more curious, in which the 
capricious and fantastic lightning attacked the epidermis 
without burning the hair which covered it. 

At Dampierre thunder broke over a house belonging 
to M. Saumois. His arm, one leg, and the left side of 
his body were burnt, and the extraordinary thing is 
that the skin of the arm was burnt leaving the hair 

A little further on we shall have cases where the 
lightning has proved salutary in certain forms of 

Generally the people who are struck fall at once 
without a struggle. 

It has been proved by a great number of observa- 
tions that the man who has been struck by lightning 
so as to lose consciousness immediately falls without 
having seen, heard, or felt anything. This is easy to 
believe, since electricity is animated by a movement 
much quicker than that of light, and still more so than 
that of sound. The eye and ear are paralyzed before 
the lightning and the thunder could have made an 
impression on them ; so much so that the victims, 
when they recover themselves, are unable to explain 
what has happened to them. 


People struck by lightning nearly always sink on 
the very spot where they have been struck. Besides 
this, we have already remarked several cases where the 
people struck have preserved the exact positions they 
had at the moment of the catastrophe. 

But, on the other hand, we can quote some examples, 
rarer, but diametrically opposed to these. 

On July 8, 1839, lightning struck an oak near 
Triel (Seine-et-Oise), and also struck two quarrymen, 
father and son. This last was killed dead, raised, and 
transported twenty-three yards away. 

The surgeon Brillouet was surprised by a storm 
near Chantilly, and was raised by the lightning and 
deposited twenty-five paces from where he had been. 

On August 18, 1884, at Namur (Belgium), a man 
was flung ten yards from the tree under which he had 
been struck by lightning, 

The following notice was in the papers in August, 
1900 :- 

" Brousses-et-Villaret (Aude), August 20. During 
the storm which burst over that region the lightning 
killed two cows belonging to M. Bouchere. It also struck, 
but without hurting him, a young man of twenty-three 
years of age, Bernard Robart, artilleryman, who was 
taking a holiday. He was walking to a neighbouring 
farm when he was suddenly carried through the air for 
fifty yards. He got up again without any hurt, onlv 


he was dazzled by the lightning which had flashed 
before his eyes." 

On writing to the victim to verify this fact, I 
received the following answer : 

" I have the honour to inform you that the article 
relating to the incident which happened to me during 
the lightning, on the 17th, is absolutely true. 

"I was on leave at Brousses, Canton of Saissac 
(Aude). I left my uncle's house at about 8 p.m. 
There had been a heavy storm. The rain had nearly 
stopped for about two or three minutes, but it still fell 
a little. There had been a good deal of thunder during 
the storm. I was sleeping at home, the house being 
about two hundred yards away. It was very dark, and 
seeing that the rain was going to begin again with 
violence, I started to run. I went very quick. I was 
crossing the Place, and when I arrived in front of 
M. Combes' 1 house, I suddenly felt myself stopped, and 
without being able to explain how, I found myself in 
the same instant at the other side of the Place, lying 
on the ground against the wall of M. Maistre's house. 
I was astounded ; I waited a good minute without 
knowing where I was. When I got home I felt a 
severe pain in the right knee, and I perceived that my 
trousers were torn and that I had a big scar on my 
knee, and that my hands were slightly scorched. It 


must have happened against the wall where there were 
some loose stones. I was transported about fifty yards, 
and I cannot tell you if it thundered at the same time, 
but there had been a big clap about a minute before. 
Two people who were leaving M. Combes' house were 
witness of the fact. The lightning penetrated into 
M. Bouchere's stables two hundred yards away, and 
killed two cows and broke the leg of another. As it 
went in it broke the cover of the doorway, which was 
of freestone, in two, and knocked over a chair and seven 
or eight bottles which were on a shelf. 
" Believe me, etc., 

" Artilleryman, Fort Saint Nicholas, 
" Marseilles." 

Thus we have several examples of people being 
transported 20, 30, and 50 yards from the point where 
the lightning has struck them. 

Sometimes the bodies of people who are struck are 
as stiff as iron and retain their stiffness. 

On June 30, 1854, a waggoner, thirty-five years ot 
age, was struck in Paris. The next day Dr. Sestier saw 
his corpse at the Morgue : it was perfectly stiff. The 
next day, forty-four hours after the death, this stiffness 
was still most marked. 

Some years ago, in the Commune of Hectomare 


(Eure), lightning struck a man named Delabarre, who 
was holding a piece of bread in his hand. The con- 
tractility of the nerves was so strong that it could not 
be taken from him. 

On the other hand, the bodies very often remain 
flexible after death, as in life. 

On September 17, 1780, a violent storm burst 
over Eastbourne. A coachman and footman were 
killed. "Although the bodies remained from Sunday 
to Tuesday unburied," remarked an observer, "all 
their limbs were as flexible as those of living 

Sometimes the corpses soften and decompose rapidly, 
leaving an unbearable odour. 

On June 15, 1794, lightning killed a lady in a 
ballroom at Fribourg. The corpse rapidly gave forth 
a curious odour of putrefaction. The doctor could 
hardly examine it without fainting. The inhabitants 
of the house were obliged to go away thirty-six hours 
after the death, the odour was so penetrating. It was 
with difficulty that they were able to put the fetid 
corpse into a coffin. It fell to pieces. 

The flabbiness often observed in the bodies of 
people who are struck is due, no doubt, to the fact 
that in the case of enormous discharge, the stiffness 
of a dead body develops so quickly, and is of such a 
short duration, that it may escape observation. 


Numbers of experiments made on animals justify 
this hypothesis. 

Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, bodies which 
have been struck decompose rapidly, which explains 
quite naturally the softness of bodies killed by lightning. 

The colouration of these presents numerous varieties ; 
sometimes the face is of a corpse-like paleness, at others 
it preserves its natural colour. 

In many cases, the face is livid, red, violet, violet- 
bronze, black, yellow, and even covered over with brown 
or blue spots. 

The colouration of the face may be extended over 
all or nearly all the body. 

The eight reapers who were killed under an oak, 
quoted by Cardan in our first example, were quite 

That the subtle fluid accumulated in great masses 
in the clouds should kill a man, deprive him of move- 
ment, annihilate his faculties, or slightly wound him 
this ought not to astonish us when we contemplate 
the marvellous results and the prodigies of strength 
accomplished by the much more feeble electricity of 
our laboratories. 

But the extraordinary point about lightning is its 
variety of action. Why does it not invariably kill 
those it strikes? and why does it sometimes not even 
wound them ? 


There are inexplicable subtleties in the world. 

One knows of many examples of people who are 
struck whose garments remain absolutely intact. The 
imponderable fluid insinuates itself through the gar- 
ments, leaving no trace of its passage, and may cause 
grave disorders in the body of a man without any 
exterior mark to reveal it to the most perspicacious 

We hear of the case of a man who had nearly the 
whole of his right side burnt from the arm to the foot, 
as though it had been for a long time too near a quick 
fire, but his shirt, his pants, and the rest of his clothes 
were untouched by the fire. 

The Abbe Pinel gives the case of a man who, 
amongst other injuries, had his right foot very badly 
lacerated, while the left was untouched ; the right sabot 
was untouched, and the left was broken. 

On June 10, 1895, at Bellenghise, near Saint- 
Quentin, a lady was killed under a tree : she had deep 
marks of burning on the breast and stomach, but her 
clothes remained intact. Lightning is very mystifying. 

Th. Neale cites a case where the hands were burnt 
to the bone in gloves which remained intact ! 

At other times, garments, even those nearest the 
skin, are perforated, burnt, and torn, without the 
surface of the skin being injured. 

Thus the boot of a man who had been struck was 


so torn that it was reduced to ashes, while there was 
no trace of a wound on the foot. 

An extraordinary case in point happened at Vabreas 
(Vaucluse) in July, 1873. A peasant was in the fields 
when there was a violent clap of thunder. The electric 
fluid struck his head, shaved the left side, and completely 
burnt his hat. Then, continuing its route, it tore his 
garments, penetrated the length of his legs, and tore 
his trousers from top to bottom. Finally, it transported 
the unfortunate man, nearly naked, six or seven yards 
from his original place, and laid him on his stomach 
on a bush with his head hanging over the edge of a 

Sometimes, when the garments are seriously injured, 
we find slight injuries under the skin which do not 
always correspond to the places where the garment is 
most seriously affected. 

Lichtenberg quotes the case of a man who had his 
clothes cut as by the point of a knife from the shoulders 
to the feet, without the sign of a wound except a small 
sore on the foot under the buckle of the shoe. 

According to Howard, a man had his clothes torn 
to atoms without showing any trace of the action of 
the electric fluid on the surface of his body, except a 
light mark on the forehead. 

Sometimes, as we have already said, the inner 
garments are burnt while the outer ones are respected. 


A woman had her chemise scorched by the fire of 
heaven, while her dress and petticoats were spared. 

On June 14, 1774, lightning fell at Poitiers in a yard 
where a young cooper was working. It went under 
his right foot, burning his shoe, passed between his 
stocking and leg, singed the stocking without wounding 
the leg, burned the lining of his trousers, raised the 
epidermis of the abdomen, tore off a brass button 
which fastened his garment, and went off to twist 
a carpenter round in a neighbouring lane. Neither 
one nor the other felt the effects of this stroke of 

Finally, the clothes, above all the shoes, are unsewn 
carefully and without a tear, as though by the hand of 
a clever workman. 

Here are two cases in a thousand 

On June 18, 1872, at Grange Forestiere, near Petit- 
Creusot, a man had his trousers unsewn from top to 
bottom and his shoes taken off. 

In the department of Eure-et-Loire, some peasants 
were engaged in binding sheaves, and their daughter, 
aged nine, was playing near them when a storm broke 
with great violence. 

" Let us go in, I am frightened," she cried, running 
to take refuge between her parents. 

"We will go in immediately, but we must finish 
binding before the rain comes on." 


"Then I will beg of the Good God to keep the 
thunder from us." 


And while the father and mother continued their 
work, the child went down on her knees, and with her 
hands over her eyes commenced her prayer. 

Suddenly, without hearing or seeing anything, the 
father felt the straw move under his feet; he turned 
mechanically, and gave a great cry on seeing his little 
daughter stretched motionless on the ground. She was 
dead. Her little corset was unsewn and her chemise 

But of all the fantastic actions of lightning, the 
most extraordinary and incomprehensible is the mania 
it has for undressing its victims, and leaving them dead 
or fainting in the primitive costume of our first parents 
or in a dress too simple to be allowed by our civilized 

This deplorable and quite inexplicable habit has 
given lightning a large scientific dossier, from which 
we have already cited examples in the first chapter, 
and from which we will again extract some fragments. 

Near Angers, on May 12, 1901, a farm lad named 
Rousteau, aged twenty-three, was killed by lightning in 
the middle of the fields. The corpse was found nearly 

On June 29, 1869, at Pradettes (Ariege), the Mayor 



several of these were found hanging on the branches 
of the tree. 

One day a workman was sheltering under the shed 
of a kiosque in which there were five men playing cards. 
He was grazed by lightning. The fluid, after having 
passed between the players without hurting them, left 
the kiosque, and removed a shoe from the poor workman, 
who was petrified with fright. They searched for the 
shoe which had been confiscated by the fulminant 
matter, but in vain. 

Moreover, lightning seems to have a special pre- 
dilection for shoes ; it seldom respects them, even when 
it spares the other garments. Sabots, shoes, and even 
boots are removed, unsewn, un-nailed, cut to pieces, and 
thrown far away with extraordinary violence. Very 
often the discharge penetrates into the human body by 
the head and leaves it by the feet. 

During a violent storm (June 8, 1868) a workman 
was passing near the Jardin des Plantes, when he 
felt a great oppression on his stomach. He was then 
knocked down roughly by an irresistible force, and 
deprived of the use of his senses at the moment of 
the fall. He was picked up and taken home, and on 
being examined, his body bore no trace of a wound, 
and he escaped with a fright. But some days after, 
when he had recovered from the shock, he remembered 
that he had worn boots at the time of the accident. 


These had disappeared, the lightning had stolen them 
from him, though it acted from a distance. The boots 
were found in the street, and the soles had the nails 
completely removed, although they were screwed in and 
the boots were nearly new. 

On May 31, 1904, at Villemontoire (Aisne), a work- 
man was killed on a hay-cock, his clothes were reduced 
to fragments, and his shoes were not to be found. 
Two other workmen were wounded, and the cock was 
set on fire. 

On May 11, 1893, lightning broke over the Com- 
mune of Chapelle-en-Blezy (Haute-Marne). A young 
shepherd, who was watching his flock in the fields, was 
knocked over by the fluid and lost consciousness. 
When he came to himself he found that his sabots and 
cap had disappeared. 

Arago states that a workman was struck under a 
pavilion, and that the pieces of his hat were found 
embedded in the ceiling. 

Biot gives the case of a hat which was flung ten 
paces without a breath of wind. 

We could multiply these very curious observations, 
but we must restrain ourselves so as to remain within 
the limits of this little book. Did I not say just now 
that lightning has sometimes though very rarely 
exercised a beneficial influence on sick people it strikes ? 

Yes ; we hear of several cases where thunder has 


several of these were found hanging on the branches 
of the tree. 

One day a workman was sheltering under the shed 
of a kiosque in which there were five men playing cards. 
He was grazed by lightning. The fluid, after having 
passed between the players without hurting them, left 
the kiosque, and removed a shoe from the poor workman, 
who was petrified with fright. They searched for the 
shoe which had been confiscated by the fulminant 
matter, but in vain. 

Moreover, lightning seems to have a special pre- 
dilection for shoes ; it seldom respects them, even when 
it spares the other garments. Sabots, shoes, and even 
boots are removed, unsewn, un-nailed, cut to pieces, and 
thrown far away with extraordinary violence. Very 
often the discharge penetrates into the human body by 
the head and leaves it by the feet. 

During a violent storm (June 8, 1868) a workman 
was passing near the Jardin des Plantes, when he 
felt a great oppression on his stomach. He was then 
knocked down roughly by an irresistible force, and 
deprived of the use of his senses at the moment of 
the fall. He was picked up and taken home, and on 
being examined, his body bore no trace of a wound, 
and he escaped with a fright. But some days after, 
when he had recovered from the shock, he remembered 
that he had worn boots at the time of the accident. 


These had disappeared, the lightning had stolen them 
from him, though it acted from a distance. The boots 
were found in the street, and the soles had the nails 
completely removed, although they were screwed in and 
the boots were nearly new. 

On May 31, 1904, at Villemontoire (Aisne), a work- 
man was killed on a hay-cock, his clothes were reduced 
to fragments, and his shoes were not to be found. 
Two other workmen were wounded, and the cock was 
set on fire. 

On May 11, 1893, lightning broke over the Com- 
mune of Chapelle-en-Blezy (Haute-Marne). A young 
shepherd, who was watching his flock in the fields, was 
knocked over by the fluid and lost consciousness. 
When he came to himself he found that his sabots and 
cap had disappeared. 

Arago states that a workman was struck under a 
pavilion, and that the pieces of his hat were found 
embedded in the ceiling. 

Biot gives the case of a hat which was flung ten 
paces without a breath of wind. 

We could multiply these very curious observations, 
but we must restrain ourselves so as to remain within 
the limits of this little book. Did I not say just now 
that lightning has sometimes though very rarely 
exercised a beneficial influence on sick people it strikes ? 

Yes ; we hear of several cases where thunder has 


shown itself a rival to the noblest disciples of 
Esculapius, and where it has worked veritable miracles. 

For instance, a person who had been paralyzed 
thirty-eight years, suddenly, at the age of forty-four, 
recovered the use of her legs, after a stroke of lightning. 

A paralytic had been taking the curative waters of 
Tunbridge Wells for twenty years, when the spark 
touched him and cured him of his terrible infirmity. 

Lightning has sometimes worked marvels on the 
blind, deaf, and dumb, to whom it restores sight, 
hearing, and speech. 

A man who had the whole of his left side paralyzed 
from infancy was struck in his room on August 10, 
1807. He lost consciousness for twenty minutes, but 
after some days he gradually and permanently re- 
covered the use of his limbs. A weakness of the right 
eye also disappeared, and the invalid could write 
without spectacles. On the other hand, he became 

Indeed, if we are to believe stories which appear to 
be authentic, a cold, a tumour, and rheumatism have 
been cured by lightning. We have given an example 
in our first chapter. 

It is impossible to explain in what manner the 
subtle fluid accomplishes these wonderful cures. Are 
they to be attributed to the shock, to a general up- 
heaval which brings back the circulation to its normal 


course? Or are we to attribute to the electric sub- 
stance still unknown to physicians and physiologists 
an action capable of overcoming the most inveterate 
evils ? 

The science of Therapeutics already makes excellent 
use of the electricity of the machines. Can we, then, 
marvel much that lightning should rival our feeble 
electric resources ? No ! What a number of services 
might it not render if it were not for its mad inde- 
pendence ! What an amount of lost power there is in 
the gleam of lightning ! 

As a matter of fact, we owe no gratitude to light- 
ning. There are too many miseries for a few happy 
results. The balance is really too unequal. 

Some lightning strokes have proved veritable dis- 
asters, on account of the number of the victims and 
the havoc which has been caused. 

The most extraordinary of these are the following : 

On a feast-day lightning penetrated into a church 
near Carpentras. Fifty people were killed or wounded 
or rendered imbecile. 

On July 2, 1717, lightning struck a church at 
Seidenburg, near Zittau, during the service ; forty-eight 
people were killed or wounded. 

On June 26, 1783, lightning struck the church of 
Villars-le-Terroy, when its bells were being rung; it 
killed eleven people, and wounded thirteen. 


On board the sloop Sapho, in February, 1820, six 
men were killed by a stroke of lightning and fourteen 
seriously wounded. 

On board the ship Repulse, near the shores of 
Catalonia, on April 13, 1813, lightning killed eight 
men in the rigging and wounded nine, of whom several 

On July 11, 1857, three hundred people were 
assembled in the church at Grosshad, a small village, 
two miles from Diiren, when lightning struck it; 
one hundred people were wounded, thirty of them 
seriously. Six were killed, and they were six hardy 

Early in July, 1865, lightning fell on the territory 
of Coray (Finisterre) in a warren where sixteen people 
were weeding. Six men and a child were killed by the 
same stroke, and three others were severely wounded. 
Several were stripped naked, their garments being 
scattered in rags over the ground ; their shoes were cut 
to pieces and all broken. A curious point is that the 
workers were struck at a distance of 100 yards from 
each other. 

On July 12, 1887, at Mount Pleasant (Tennessee, 
U.S.A.), lightning killed nine people who were taking 
refuge under an oak during a storm. These formed 
part of a procession which was conducting a negress to 
her last home. 


Here is another very curious and complex 

On the last Sunday in June, 1867, during Vespers, 
lightning struck a church at Dance, Canton of Saint- 
Germain-Laval (Loire). A deathlike silence succeeded 
the noise of the explosion, then a cry was heard, then 
a hundred more. The cure, who thought that he alone 
had received the whole electric discharge and was in 
reality unhurt left his place, where he was enveloped 
in a cloud of dust and smoke, and spoke to his 
parishioners from the Communion rails, to reassure 
them. " It is nothing," he said. " Keep your places ; 
there is no harm done. v 

He was mistaken ; twenty-five to thirty people had 
been more or less struck. Four were carried away un- 
conscious, but the worst treated of all was the treasurer. 
In raising him they perceived that his eyes were open, 
but dull and veiled, and he gave no sign of life. His 
clothes were burnt, and his shoes, which were torn and 
full of blood, were removed from his feet. 

The Monstrance, which had been exposed, had been 
thrown down on the ground, and was battered and 
pierced in the stem, and the Host had disappeared. 
The priest searched for it for a long time, and finally 
discovered it on the altar in the middle of the corporal, 
on a thick bed of rubbish. 

Three or four yards of the wainscoting of the choir 


had burnt into atoms. Outside, the arrow of the belfry 
had been carried off, and its slates were scattered about 
in the neighbouring fields. 

On June 22, 1902, lightning struck, the church of 
Pineiro (Province of Orense, Spain) during a funeral. 
There were twenty-five dead and thirty-five severely 

These are cases of destruction on a large scale, but 
we can give parallel cases where the terrible fluid seems 
only to amuse itself. 

In fact, some people appear to enjoy the privilege 
of particularly attracting lightning, and of frequently 
receiving its visits without suffering much from its 
reiterated attacks. 

They say that Mithridates was twice touched by 
lightning. The first stroke was when he was in his 
cradle, his swaddling clothes were singed, and the scar 
of a burn which he received on his forehead was covered 
with hair afterwards. 

According to the Abbe Richard, a lady, who lived 
in a chateau on an elevation near Bourgogne, saw the 
lightning several times enter her room, divide itself 
into sparks of different sizes, of which the greater part 
attached themselves to her clothes without burning 
them, and left livid traces on her arms and even on her 
thighs. She said, when speaking on this subject, that 
thunder had never done her more harm than to whip 


her two or three times, though it fell pretty often on 
her chateau. 

There seems to be a sort of relative immunity in 
women and children. These are seldom struck. We 
have even several examples of children remaining safe 
and sound in the arms of their mothers who are struck. 

Fracastor's mother had her child to her breast when 
she was struck by lightning. The child itself was 

In August, 1853, at Georgetown (Essex), Mrs. 
Russel, wife of the Protestant minister, was killed by 
lightning, while a small child which she had in her 
arms was unhurt. 

It would seem as if lightning pitied the feeble the 
women and children. 

We hear of cases where people were struck several 
times during the same storm without succumbing to its 
manifold attacks. 

" In two similar situations, 1 * says Arago, " one man, 
according to the nature of his constitution, runs more 
risk than another. There are some exceptional people 
who are not conductors to the fulminating matter, 
and who neither receive nor pass on a shock. As a 
rule, they must be ranked among the non-con- 
ductor bodies that the lightning respects, or, at least, 
that it strikes rarely. Such decided differences could 
not exist without there being finer shades. Thus each 


degree of conductibility corresponds during the time 
of a storm to a certain degree of danger. The man 
who conducts like a metal will be struck as often 
as a metal, while the man who cuts off the com- 
munication in the chain, will have almost as little 
to fear as if he were made of glass or resin. Between 
these limits there will be found individuals whom 
lightning might strike as it would strike wood, stones, 
etc. Thus, in the phenomena of lightning, every- 
thing does not depend on the place that a man may 
occupy; his physical constitution will have something 
to do with it. 

The phantasmagoria of lightning leaves us perplexed. 
All these observations are extraordinary and very dis- 
concerting. The facts contradict each other, and lead 
us to no actual conclusion. 

The Gazette de Cologne gave the following case in 
June, 1867 :- 

At Czempin, a young girl of eighteen was struck by 
lightning while she was working near a hearth. She 
remained unconscious, in spite of all the efforts made 
to revive her. At last, acting on the advice of an old 
man, they placed her in a freshly dug ditch, and covered 
her body with earth, but in such a way as to avoid stifling 
her. After some hours she recovered consciousness, and 
was restored to health. 

Sometimes lightning amuses itself nicely and 

innocently. It mixes in the society of men without 
doing them harm, or leaving any remembrance but a 
great fear. 

One day lightning entered by the chimney into the 
middle of a lively dance at M. Van Gestien's, the inn- 
keeper at Flone (Belgium). At the sight of it the 
dancers were petrified with terror, and not one could 
try and escape. But they misunderstood the intentions 
of the lightning, which were of the most straight- 
forward ; it only wanted to be a spoil-sport. It also 
had the good taste to depart quietly. 

After the first excitement a profound stupefaction 
seized hold of the persons present ; they were all trans- 
formed into niggers. The lightning had swept the 
chimney, and cast the soot into the ball-room, powder- 
ing all the faces and toilettes. 

Lightning might be the daughter of goblins rather 
than a messenger from Olympus. The following facts 
might confirm this impression : 

At Bayonne, on June 6, 1873, lightning knocked 
over a gas-burner, and threw a person down, after 
making her turn round three times. A family of 
twelve were gathered together at a table, sixty yards, 
at least, from the point where it burst. They were 
all knocked down, but without sustaining any injury. 

During a violent storm, lightning entered a country 
house by the chimney ; it lifted two big stones from 


the hearth, and carried them over to near the head 
of a child who was asleep, and placed one on each 
side, without grazing it or hurting the child. 

And this same lightning, whose almost maternal 
delicacy is quite exquisite, entered another time, also 
by the chimney, into a house, hit a man savagely on 
the head, wounded him severely, and left him dead 
in the middle of a pool of blood. Then it took a 
quantity of this blood which was accumulated round 
his head, and went and stuck it on the ceiling of the 
higher story. A child who was present at this tragic 
scene was unhurt. 

In August, 1901, an electric spark penetrated into 
a house in the village of Porri, near Ajaccio, and 
started to make the tour of the property. First it 
visited the second-floor rooms, without doing much 
damage there; then it went down to the first floor, 
where there were two young girls, turned them round, 
and burnt their legs. It continued on its course as 
far as the cellar, where its dazzling brightness terrified 
three young children who had taken refuge . there. It 
spared two, but burned the third rather severely. 

Let us finish this series of electric pictures, which 
depict sometimes in a very tragic manner the dif- 
ferent modes of activity of one of the grandest of 
Nature's phenomena, by two facts, the strangeness of 
which surpasses everything that one can imagine. 


Pliny gives the case of a Roman lady, who, having 
been struck by lightning during her confinement, had 
a stillborn child, without herself suffering the least 

Another : 

The Abbe Richard, in his Histoire de TAir, gives 
a more extraordinary case still. At Altenbourg, in 
Saxony, in July, 1713, lightning struck a woman who 
was expecting her confinement. She was delivered 
some hours afterwards of a child who was half burnt, 
and whose body was all black. The mother recovered 
her health. 

We can neither define nor delimit the power of 
lightning. Sometimes merciful, often cruel, it con- 
stitutes in the universality of its actions, one of Nature's 
most terrible scourges. 



ANIMALS, even more than mankind, attract the fire 
of heaven. Lightning has a certain regard for human 
beings, which it seems to lose entirely when it is a 
case of the humble and faithful servants that Nature 
has given us. 

And, between ourselves, thunder is not always as 
absurd as it appears. Its proceedings are sometimes 
even very tactful. Though it may often strike innocent 
victims blindly and ferociously; yet it seems at times 
to show a certain amount of intelligence. Thus we 
find among our many examples a strange fact, which 
will serve to reconcile our thoughts a little to thunder. 

On June 20, 1872, in Kentucky State, we have 
already cited the case of the nigger Norris, who was 
going to be hanged for the murder of a mulatto com- 
panion, and who, just as he was putting his foot on 
the fatal platform, was struck by lightning, and thus 
spared the sheriff the trouble of hurling him into 



Here was a case where thunder was full of justice, 
and we cannot praise it too much. 

Arago gives another case where a chief of brigands 
was shut up in a Bavarian prison, together with his 
accomplices. No doubt he was encouraging their 
arrogance by his blasphemies the stone to which he 
was attached acting as a tribune for him when he 
was suddenly struck by lightning while haranguing 
his disciples. He fell dead. The iron manacles had 
brought on the disaster, but the brigands did not 
stop to think of this natural cause ; they were just as 
terrified as if the iron had not been there, and the 
lightning had chosen its victim with intelligence. 

Here is another instance 

The favourite of a prince had obtained from him 
a written recognition of her son. She counted on this 
to give trouble to the State after the death of her 
benefactor. She enclosed it carefully in a chest, and 
went and buried it deep in a wood, hoping to render 
all search useless, if the prince should change his 

But behold, the lightning intervened ; the tree was 
struck, and the open chest was thrown on the highway, 
where it was found by a peasant. 

Animals are worse treated than men, but better 
than plants and inorganic bodies. What are the causes 
of this difference ? Can we attribute it to physical 


predisposition ? But this has not yet been proved. 
Experience shows that sparks directed on the vertebral 
column are particularly dangerous. Now, the backs 
of quadrupeds are greatly exposed to mortal strokes 
from the celestial fire. 

Their fur or their plumage, which form an intrinsic 
part of their bodies, put them more or less in the 
situation of a man who, to protect himself from in- 
clemency, should envelop himself in his hair, supposing 
this to be long enough and rich enough to cover him 

Animals rarely survive when struck. When they 
do not die on the spot, they succumb soon after to 
their wounds. The ancients have remarked on this. 

" Man," says Pliny, " is the only animal that light- 
ning does not always kill; all the others die on the 
spot. It is a prerogative granted to him by Nature, 
though so many animals surpass him in strength." 
And, further on, he adds that amongst birds the eagle 
is never struck. This has given it the name of porte 

But these assertions are slightly exaggerated, and 
we can quote a certain number of examples of animals 
which have resisted the baneful influence of the electric 

In 1901, a horse was touched by lightning, which 
was certainly attracted by the iron of his shoe. 


It traced two deep trails right along the animal's 
leg, where the skin was abrased, and appeared as 
though it were cauterized. These two lines joined 
together at the fold of the ham, and then formed a 
single furrow, all sign of which was lost in the 
abdominal region. The rest of the body was unhurt, 
and the animal sustained no further harm after being 
struck than it would have done if an incompetent 
veterinary surgeon had fired him too severely. 

On July 4, 1884, at Castres, ten persons and 
nine horses were struck by lightning ; all survived the 

On June 9, 1886, in the Grand Duchy of Luxem- 
bourg, three cows and a little girl, who was in charge 
of them, were knocked over by a violent shock. The 
child and the beasts soon got up. Only an ox was 
killed some distance from there. 

Very often horses are stunned by the discharge on 
animals which are killed, but after a time they recover. 
This phenomenon has also been observed in other 
animals. For instance, five or six pigs which were in 
a cage in the prow of a ship were killed by an electric 
discharge, whilst others which were only separated from 
them by a cloth were saved. 

But the cases are rare in which animals do not 
succumb to lightning. They nearly always perish. 
At present we will only discuss animals as a body, 


equal, or superior to man. The others, the smaller 
ones, offer a still more convincing generality. 

All animals seem to be greatly exposed to the 
wrath of Jupiter; nevertheless, some species appear to 
be peculiarly sensitive to lightning the gentle sheep, 
for example, which huddle together fraternally during a 
storm, and fall in a mass, struck by the fire of heaven. 

I have before me a list of animals which have been 
struck. There are some of every kind. We might divide 
them thus 

Several hundred rams, sheep, 3 goats, 

and ewes. 3 cats. 

73 horses, mares, and colts. 3 mules. 

71 oxen, cows, or bulls. 2 pigs. 

9 dogs. 1 hare. 

4 asses. 1 squirrel. 

A prodigious quantity of geese, chickens, pigeons, 
and small birds. 

Fish also contribute a respectable contingent to 

As a rule, large groups of animals are dangerous 
when there is thunder, as they seem to exercise a strong 
attractive influence to the electric fluid. 

Often entire herds are destroyed by lightning. Dr. 
Boudin gives the following example : 

On May 11, 1865, at about 6.30 p.m., Hubert 


Wera, a shepherd who was surprised in the fields when 
a storm overtook him, was hurrying home with his 
flock. On coming to a narrow and difficult road, the 
sheep formed themselves into two groups. The shepherd 
took shelter behind a bush, when a terrible clap of 
thunder was heard. Lightning struck him and his 
flock. The unfortunate man was struck on the top of 
his head. All his hair had been taken from the nape 
of his neck, and the electric fluid had traced a ridge 
on his forehead, his face, and breast. His body was 
quite naked ; all his clothes were reduced to rags. 
Moreover, there was no trace of blood. The iron of 
his crook had been detached from the handle and 
thrown several yards away, and the handle itself was 
broken to pieces. A small metal crucifix and a scapular 
belonging to the unfortunate shepherd were found 
fifteen yards away. 

Of the flock of 152 sheep, 126 were killed. They 
were covered with blood, and their wounds were as 
varied as they were peculiar. Some had their heads 
chopped, others had them pierced from side to side, 
others had their legs fractured. As to the dog, he 
was not to be found. 

On May 13, 1803, near Fehrbellin (Prussian States), 
one clap of thunder killed a shepherd and 40 sheep. 

On June 1, 1826, thunder killed 64 hairy beasts 
in a field at Gulpin (Limbourg). 


At Prades, on July 28, 1890, 340 sheep were 
struck at one blow. 

During a violent storm which burst over Montmaur 
in the Isere, lightning struck a flock of 90 sheep, and 
killed 53. 

In the month of April, 1869, thunder burst over a 
sheepfold in which there were 80 sheep. 

Fifty of these were found entirely carbonized, the 
thirty others were covered with sores, on the head, in 
the eyes, and on the back, and half asphyxiated by the 
fulminant fluid. The poor sheep were all cowering 

On August 11, 1905, a flock of sheep were car- 
bonized, and cattle of every kind were struck. 

At Limoges, on July 4, 1884, 42 cows or oxen 
were struck by the spark. They were all joined 
together by an iron chain. 

On June 24, 1822, near Hayengen (Wurtemberg), 
a shepherd and 216 sheep out of 288, were struck in 
the open field. 

Lastly, according to Abbadie, a storm in Ethiopia 
killed in one single stroke, 2000 goats and their 
shepherd. These figures are, I think, sufficiently 
eloquent, and if it were not for fear of fatiguing my 
readers, who might become bored, we could add a great 
many similar examples to this list. But it would 
be superfluous to expatiate further on the dangers 


incurred in a storm by large agglomerations of animals. 
In their terror, beasts, particularly sheep, press closely 
together, and are soaked by the rain. In this way 
they offer a large surface, which absolutely conducts 
the lightning. Also the column of vapour which rises 
from these living masses, affords an excellent passage 
for the fluid to pass through while crossing over the 
bodies of the poor beasts. It would be better to dis- 
perse the flock, rather than form a compact group of 
them, during a storm. 

One sometimes wonders also what would be the 
effect of lightning on animals arranged in a file. 
Would it act the same with atmospheric electricity as 
with that in our laboratories ? Would the influence 
of the electric matter be more dangerous in the 
extremities than in the middle ? 

When lightning meets a metallic bar, it does no 
harm except on entering and departing. On the other 
hand, when several people form a chain, holding hands, 
if the first touches the body of a Ley den electrical jar 
and the last touches the top, the whole circle will 
instantaneously receive a shock. Only those in the 
middle receive a less violent one than those who touch 
the jar. Well, the discharges from the clouds produce 
similar effects on men and animals. 

Arago supports this by the following facts : 

At Flavigny (Cote-d'Or), five horses were in a stable 


when the lightning penetrated. The two first and the 
two last perished, the fifth, which was in the middle, 
was unhurt. 

One day lightning fell on an open field on five 
horses in a line and killed the first and last ; the three 
others were spared. 

But we should require a much larger number of 
proofs before we could be sure of this. 

In certain cases, lightning, always fantastic and 
extraordinary, seems to make a fastidious choice of its 
victims. It kills one, spares another, strikes a third, 
does good to a fourth what a strange game ! how 
fantastic ! 

Madame la Comtesse Mycielska, of the Duchy of 
Posen, wrote to me recently 

"During a storm which took place in the month of 
August, 1901, lightning entered by a half-open door 
into a stable where there were twenty cows, and killed 
ten. Beginning with that which was nearest the door, 
the second was spared, the third killed, the fourth was 
uninjured, and so on. All the uneven numbers were 
killed, the others were not even burnt. The shepherd 
who was in the stable at the time of the shock, got up 
unhurt. The lightning did not burn the building, 
although the stable was full of straw. 11 

"We have given a similar case in the chapter on 
Fireballs. A propos of this, M. Elisee Duval, of 


Criquetot TEsneval (Seine-Inferieure), relates a very 
remarkable case. On June 20, 1892, lightning fell on 
the telegraph poles of Havre and Etretat. A dozen 
were thrown over, and the curious part is that every 
second one was knocked down. 

Here is a more extraordinary case still. We were 
not aware that thunder could distinguish between 
colours, and that it has its preferences amongst them. 
Well, we need no longer be surprised at this. Here we 
have a case where the fluid declares itself distinctly 
in favour of black. It was at Lapleau in Correze. 
One day thunder fell on a grange full of hay and 
straw, and covered with thatch, without setting it on 
fire. Then it went to the sheepfold and killed seven 
black sheep, and left the white alone. 

This choice is categorical, and people who fear 
lightning might follow this example by wearing long 
white garments in a storm. Unfortunately, lightning 
is so eccentric and uncertain, that we must not defy 
it ; it is not to be trusted. 

Who can explain why it sometimes glides into a 
stable full of cows without injuring one? This extra- 
ordinary thing happened in the Commune of Grigni- 
court (Marne). 

After a great clap of thunder, all the cows that 
were in a shed became unfastened, without one of 
them beins hurt. 


There, again, the lightning only seemed to want to 
make itself useful. 

If, in some cases, by a providential chance, cattle 
have been saved, it is none the less true that an animal 
very rarely survives a discharge which has caused the 
death of a human being. 

But, as there is no rule without exceptions, we will 
give the following : 

The sky was dark and lowering, and a shepherd, 
seeing that there was about to be a storm, ran to his 
flock to drive it to the shed. Just at the same moment, 
lightning burst and knocked him down, together with 
thirty sheep. The beasts all got up soon, but the 
poor shepherd was dead. 

On another occasion, on June 13, 1893, a 
shepherd was killed by lightning, and the remarkable 
thing was that only one sheep out of the hundred of 
the flock was struck. 

On June 17, 1883, thunder entered a sheepfold, 
containing one hundred sheep. Only four perished. 
One of them was marked on the back with a cross, 
formed of two rectilinear grooves, penetrating to the 
skin ; only the wool was removed. 

Sometimes, but very rarely, men and animals 
survive the discharge. 

Thus, Dr. Brillouet's horse was thrown into a ditch, 
and remained there without moving for three-quarters 


of an hour, after which he was able to get up. Later 
on he became very feeble in the legs. 

Very often the same stroke kills men and animals 
simultaneously. We have already given several cases 
of this kind. Here are some more 

A terrible storm burst at La Salvetat, on August 
26, 1900. A shepherd and his flock, composed of 
twenty-three sheep, were all killed by lightning. 

On June 23, 1887, a young boy, fifteen years of 
age, living at Montagnat (Ain), was struck while fasten- 
ing oxen to the door of a stable ; an ox was also killed. 

At Lagrauliere (Correze), on August 15, 1862, 
three girls were looking after their flocks. A violent 
storm burst at about five o'clock, and the thunder 
growled terribly. The shepherdesses, taken by surprise, 
had no time to take their flocks in. The two first took 
shelter under a big chestnut, the third under an oak 
twenty-five yards away from them. Suddenly lightning 
struck the chestnut and enveloped the two little 
refugees. They fell dead. The third fainted, half 
asphyxiated by the smell of the sulphur. The clothes 
of the two unfortunate girls who had been struck 
were burnt, their sabots were broken. Near them 
there were five sheep, a pig, and a she-ass, which had 
also been killed by the fluid. The shepherdess's dog 
had been cut in two. 

Sometimes, also, the clap of thunder, when striking 


men and animals, proves more murderous for the latter 
than the former, who, however, have sometimes 

A diligence was slowly mounting an incline, when 
suddenly a stroke of lightning interrupted its ascent. 
An electric ball burst over the heads of the horses, and 
threw the whole five down, stone dead. The postillion 
was struck, but not one other person was touched, 
though the carriage was full of women and children. 

There is one peculiarity about this incident which 
ought to attract our attention the terrible meteor was 
not accompanied by any emission of light, nor followed 
by any reverberation of sound. 

In June, 1872, at about two in the afternoon, a 
farmer at Grange-Forestiere was trying a couple of 
oxen, which he had just bought at the fair, in a field. 
Lightning knocked over the man and the animals. 
Some hours after, the poor farmer was picked up in a 
pitiable plight. His hair was burnt in parts, also hair 
on his chest, he was quite deaf, and in a state of absolute 
prostration. His trousers were unsewn from top to 
bottom in all four stitchings, his hat was riddled with 
holes, and his shoes torn off. All the same, he survived 
the accident. The oxen were killed on the spot. 

In fact, as we have already said, when the spark 
strikes men and animals at the same time, only the 
former can resist the shock. 

In June, 1855, thunder burst over a flock of sheep 
in the Commune of Saint-Leger-la-Montagne (Haute 
Vienne) ; seventy-eight sheep and two watch-dogs were 
killed on the spot. A woman who was looking after 
the flock was slightly touched. 

On September 26, 1820, lightning struck a labourer 
who was driving near Sainte Menehould. His two horses 
were killed ; the man escaped with a temporary 

In August, 1852, two out of four oxen were killed, 
the third was paralyzed on the left side. As to 
the farmer, he came off with a numbness of the left 

Very often a man feels nothing, not even a shock, 
while the animals beside him fall dead. 

Here are some facts 

On February 2, 1859, a herd of pigs were surprised 
by a water- spout near Liege. One hundred and fifty 
of these animals perished by the action of the electric 
fluid, their guides felt nothing. 

In 1715, lightning fell on the Abbey of Noirmou- 
tiers, near Tours, and killed twenty-two horses without 
doing any harm to 150 monks, whose refectory it visited 
and upset the 150 bottles containing their ration of 

In the year IX., lightning killed a horse and a mule 
near Chartres, sparing the miller who conducted them. 


On July 17, 1895, four cows were going along a 
road, when suddenly they were pushed and thrown 
roughly to the edge of the road. The old drover who 
was with them felt nothing except the sensation of 
a strong and very characteristic odour which he could 
not define. 

In 1812, a fulgurant discharge took place near Mr. 
Cowen's and killed his dog beside him, without doing 
him any harm. 

In August, 1900, lightning penetrated into a cart- 
shed, where twelve chickens were taking shelter. The 
poor things were killed, but a lady who was feeding 
them was unhurt. 

One often asks if lightning strikes birds in flight. 
This question, so often put, would seem to find an 
answer in the following facts : 

A lady was looking out of her window, when there 
was a flash of lightning, accompanied by a great clap 
of thunder. At the same time she noticed on the 
grass a dead gull which she had not seen before. The 
people who picked up the bird, affirmed that they 
found it still hot, and they added that there was a 
strong smell of sulphur. 

Examples of this kind are rare : we have two more 

One day, Mr. W. Murdochs with two friends was 
looking on at a very violent storm, which spread 
itself over the Valley of the Ayr. Just then his dog 


dislodged a flock of ducks which had been sheltered 
behind an old building. One of the birds began to 
fly, and as it was cutting through the air, it was 
struck by lightning and killed as though by a gun. 

During a storm in the United States, Mr. Burch 
saw a flock of wild geese flying by. Suddenly there was 
a flash of lightning which threw the flock into disorder ; 
six birds fell dead to the ground. 

One would have thought that the absence of all 
communication with the ground ought to protect the 
graceful winged tribe from lightning ; but no, the poor 
birds have received no mercy from this terrible adversary. 

All the same, lightning is less redoubtable for them 
than the sportsman's gun. It is very seldom that the 
kings of the air are the victims of the fire of Heaven, 
but they have another enemy, barbarous, unpardonable 
Man. Yes, the little earthly Jupiters are infinitely 
more terrible for the bird-world than the giant of the 
gods. They are rarely softened by the seductive grace, 
the elegance, and the delightful twittering of the charm- 
ing inhabitants of space. 

In truth, one of the reasons why birds are so rarely 
struck in their flight is that they foresee the storm, 
and have the prudence to take shelter before it bursts. 

Amongst birds, sparrows are those which suffer 
most from the electric fluid. 

We sometimes find them hanging by their shrivelled 


claws from telegraph wires or from the branches of 
trees. But this latter is rather rare. They generally 
nest high in the trees, and lightning affects the branches 
much less than the trunk. 

We also hear of little caged birds being killed in 
their iron prison. One day a canary was in a cage with 
five others and was killed ; the rest were unhurt. The 
spark was attracted by the metallic bars, and struck the 
canary, which was no doubt resting on iron. 

Fishes in their dark dwellings are no more privi- 
leged than other animals. They also frequently receive 
visits from the lightning, and their sad fate has often 
proved how dangerous it is to remain near a pool or 
pond during thunder. 

Moreover, why are we recommended always to put 
the conductor into a well, damp earth, or even into 
a small pond ? It is because water conducts the electric 
substance admirably. 

We can understand that a vast space of liquid 
would be a good refuge for lightning, when, after 
having made several victims on earth, and fearing the 
vengeance of the conductors, it hurls itself into the 

More often it drowns itself, and in this it follows 
the example of the immortal Gribouille; but enough of 
that. The logic of lightning is still contestable. 

However that may be, many examples show us the 


dangers to which the denizens of rivers, and of the 
liquid element generally, are exposed. Not only are 
fishermen and sailors unanimous in attesting to the 
ravages wrought by lightning, but the history of 
electricity has preserved the recollection of memorable 
disasters, of veritable hecatombs of fish, which they 
attribute to the fire of heaven. 

. Arago recounts that on September 17, 1772, light- 
ning fell on the Doubs and killed all the pike and trout 
which were in the river. The water was soon covered 
with their corpses which floated, stomach upwards. 

A century before, during the year 1672, the lake in 
the subterranean part of Zirknitz was the theatre of a 
similar event, even more terrible, on account of the 
number of victims. The inhabitants of the neighbour- 
hood collected such a number of fish that were struck, 
that they were able to fill eighteen carts. 

In 1879, during a violent storm at night, the 
electric discharge fell on a little fish-pond in which a 
number of fish sported. The next morning they were all 
found floating dead on the surface of the water. They 
had the appearance of boiled fish, and their flesh fell 
to pieces on being touched, just as it would if it had 
been cooked. There was no injury to be seen, external 
or internal. The scales and the swimming bladder, 
which was full of air, had been preserved. The water 
of the pond remained troubled and muddy the day 


after the storm, as though the agitation of the tempest 
had been quite recent. 

Here is an observation, similar to the last : 

In 1894, lightning fell on two poplars near 
Ignon, in the territory of Saulx-le-Duc (Cote-d'Or). 
A neighbouring pond, which measured 10 yards in 
length by 5 in width, was also struck. The owner 
states that all the fish, to the number of about a 
thousand, were killed. 

Another more curious case still : 

One day the fish in an aquarium placed in a 
drawing-room were struck. They were all found lying 
dead on the floor. The glass which formed the bottom 
of the vessel was twisted and coated with a thick bed 
of yellowish substance. 

If we study the effects of lightning on animals from 
the point of view of the injuries which it produces, we 
can make some very interesting remarks. 

More often the hair of animals is injured or 
burnt. Sometimes the spark acts on the skin over a 
large surface of the body of the animal. Thus, two 
horses had their hair singed nearly all over their bodies, 
and more particularly on the leg and under the stomach. 
At other times the hair is only burnt in certain places. 

Lightning struck a young four-year-old ox which 
was red with white spots. It burnt and removed all 
the white spots and left the red hair. 


But generally we find one or more furrows of 
different kinds. The skin is seldom intact under 
injured hair. It is nearly always more or less burnt. 
And one often notices extravasations of blood which 
correspond to the injuries of the epidermis, in the 
subcutaneous cellular tissue. 

In some cases, the fulminant fluid only attacks the 
colour of the hair of the animal. 

The fracture of the bones or the ablation of a limb 
is often observed on animals which have been struck. 

In 1838, a violent storm broke near Nimegue, and 
several pxen were killed in the meadows and their bones 
were broken. 

In the month of May, 1718, in the Marche de 
Priegnitz, eight sheep were struck. They could not be 
used as food, because all their bones had been broken 
as though in a mortar, and the fragments were inter- 
mingled in the flesh. These, however, remained 

We have seen in the preceding chapter that ful- 
guration often leaves no particular sign on men who 
are struck. It is the same with animals. The electric 
fluid entirely absorbs the source of life and only leaves 
insignificant traces of its passage. Sometimes even we 
can find no exterior injury. 

On July 7, 1779, near Hamburg, lightning killed 
two horses in their stable. They showed no exterior 


trace of a burn, though both had a rupture of the 

In the month of September, 1787, at Ogenne, two 
cows and a heifer were struck in their stable; no exterior 
wound was to be found on their bodies. 

Another observation is given by the Abbe Chapsal 
in his remarkable description of the effects of lightning. 
A pig fell dead, struck by a clap of thunder, and no 
indication could be found of the electric passage. 

We see that lightning does not always make a great 
distinction between the blows which it inflicts on men 
and those which it inflicts on animals. 


Sometimes, also, the corpses of beasts which are 
struck are completely incinerated. At the first sight, 
the body appears intact, but when you touch it, it falls 
to pieces. 

At Clermont (Oise) on June 2, 1908, several animals 
were entirely carbonized in their stable. 

We have also heard of animals being transported 
by the meteor a long way from the place of the 
catastrophe. Others have suffered from grave nervous 
troubles, following on the strokes of lightning which 
they have received. Sometimes partial or total paralysis 
results. Thus, a cow which had been struck by lightning, 
was knocked over, and remained a quarter of an hour 
motionless, after which it was seized with violent con- 
vulsions, then it got up quickly looking terrified. 


Here is a case of a severe shock which brought on 
an access of delirium. 

In the course of a terrible storm on September 4, 
1849, a butcher, accompanied by a dog, took refuge 
under a beech at the edge of the road. Suddenly 
lightning fell on the tree and struck the dog, which 
became mad, and threw itself on its master, bit him in 
the thigh, and only let go when the butcher dragged 
the animal with him into a neighbouring house and 
cut his tail. The dog died in the night. 

There are some examples of injuries wrought on 
animals which are barely perceptible. For instance, 
when it makes a transparent horn, opaque, and when 
it burns the mucous membrane of the nose. 

On the other hand, the foetus which sleeps under 
the frail covering of the egg, is exposed to the pitiless 
blows of the most terrible meteor, as is the baby in its 
mother's womb. Chickens have often been struck 
before they ever saw the light of day. 

Often the noise of thunder, and the fear which 
results from it, causes the miscarriage of hinds, and 
particularly of lambs. 

An animal which has been struck generally sinks 
instantly, without a struggle. All the same, we hear 
of the case of a horse which was struck by the flame, 
and which struggled for a long time against an 
inevitable death. 


The corpses of animals, like those of men, are 
sometimes very rigid; at others they are soft and 
flaccid, and decompose rapidly. 

Thus all the sheep of a flock which were together 
under a tree in Scotland, were killed by a great clap 
of thunder. The next morning the owner, wishing 
to get some advantage out of their remains, sent his 
men to skin them, but the bodies were already in such 
a state of decomposition, and the stench was so 
abominable, that it was impossible for the servants to 
execute his orders. They hurried to bury the sheep 
in their skins. 

On September 10, 1845, at about 2 p.m., lightning 
fell on a house in the village of Salagnac (Creuse). 
Amongst other accidents it killed a pig in a stable ; 
three hours after the body was completely decomposed. 

When animals are killed, not by the atmospheric 
fluid, but by the lightning of our machines, decom- 
position always comes on very rapidly. 

Brown Sequard made the following very curious 
experiment on this subject : 

He took the hearts away from five rabbits of the 
same kind, the same age, and about the same strength. 
He put one aside without touching it, and he submitted 
the four others to the passage of an electric current, 
of a different strength for each animal. Here are the 
different results obtained 

The first animal became rigid after ten hours, and 
its rigidity, which was excessively marked, lasted eight 
days. The rigidity of the four others was feebler, and 
lasted a shorter time in proportion to the strength of 
the electric current. Thus, the one which received the 
weakest current, became rigid at the end of seven 
hours, and this lasted six days. The one which 
received the strongest current became rigid in seven 
minutes, and its body softened after a quarter of an 

This experiment explains the absence, or the short- 
ness in duration, of corpselike stiffness in subjects 
which have been subjected to the terrible discharge of 

Animals are not only the frequent victims of 
lightning, but, as this experiment shows, they are still 
oftener the martyrs of science. Laboratories are 
sometimes transformed into small cemeteries, where lie 
poor guineapigs, frogs which have been quartered, and 
mutilated rabbits. But what is the ordinary lot of 
these last when science spares them ? The chief point 
is not to let the innocent victims suffer. 

Can we eat with impunity the flesh of animals which 
have been struck ? Several people say Yes, many say 
No. Both are right. 

Putting aside the question of the rapid putrefaction 
to which these bodies are nearly always subjected, the 


flesh of animals killed by fulguration has often been 
found unhealthy and uneatable. 

A veterinary surgeon who was commissioned to 
examine the bodies of two cows and an ox which had 
been struck in a stable, declared that their flesh could 
not be eaten without danger. 

On the other hand, Franklin recounts how some 
people ate fowls which had been killed by the electric 
spark " this funny little lightning " and cooked im- 
mediately after death. The flesh of these capons was 
excellent and particularly tender, and the illustrious 
inventor of lightning-conductors concluded by pro- 
posing that we should follow this proceeding in order 
to ensure our fresh meat being as clean as possible when 
served at table. 

We think, however, that it is more prudent to 
sacrifice the meat which has been struck, as it has 
been proved that in certain cases the decomposition is 
very rapid. 

Up to now we have seen all animals, man included, 
as victims of lightning : it is the general rule. 

Nevertheless, we often meet beings in this world, 
men, animals, or plants, which try to distinguish them- 
selves from others by some sort of originality. This 
appears to be the case with the electric fish, whose 
existence seems to be dedicated to the worship of 


These curious fish have received the gift from 
Nature of being able to hurl lightning to a certain 

This is how they set to work. A little fish in 
search of food goes too near this terrible enemy, who 
at once sets his living tail in motion. Fascinating it 
with his eye, he renders it immovable, and lets fly 
repeated discharges to it. After a minute, the poor 
fish is overcome, and allows itself to be snapped up by 
its pitiless adversary without resistance. 

Certain rivers in Asia and Africa and the depths 
of the Pacific Ocean, in which these curious animals 
live, are often the scenes of terrible dramas, caused by 
the presence of these lightning fish, which are divided 
into five species: the tetrodon, the trichiure, the 
silurus, the raie torpille (cramp-fish), and the gymnote 
(electric eel). These aquatic lightnings work terrible 
havoc among the inhabitants of Neptune's kingdom. 
They use their influence over men as well as fish. 
If you touch a torpille, you feel a shock strong 
enough to benumb and paralyze the arm for some 

A curious experiment was tried : eight people 
formed a chain, and one of them, with a piece of metallic 
wire, touched the back of a torpille which had been 
imported. They all felt the shock. 

If thunder had elected to be domiciled anywhere 


but in its own clouds, it would seem as if it would be 
in the organism of these curious fish. 

Unfortunately, in our international relations, 
humanity has invented a much more dangerous 
torpille (torpedo) ! 



NEARLY two thousand years ago, Pliny wrote, " As 
regards products of the earth, lightning never strikes 
the bay tree." And this is why the Roman emperors, 
in fear always of the fire of heaven, crowned themselves 
with laurels. This belief was almost universal in ancient 
times, and survived for many centuries. 

But every new century has proclaimed the immunity 
from lightning of some one member of the vegetable 
world, though impartial research has now established 
the fact that there is no such absolute privilege. If 
certain trees are rarely struck, that is, perhaps, due 
less to its species than to its size, its hygrometrical 
condition, and to other influences which it is still 
difficult to specify ; for lightning, as we have seen, has 
capricious habits which we have not yet succeeded in 

Thus the bay tree has lost its proud position in this 
respect, and has had to take its place amongst the 
ordinary run of trees, subject to the unjust anger of 



Jupiter. Many bay trees of some size have been seen 
to fall victims to the electric fluid. 

The fig tree, the mulberry tree, and the peach tree 
have also been reputed to enjoy safety, but this also is 
not the case. There is an instance on record of a fig 
tree being struck by lightning and completely withered, 
and another of a mulberry-tree, eighty years old, being 
partly destroyed. 

In our own days, the beech is believed to go un- 
inj ured. In the State of Tennessee, in the United States, 
the opinion is so deeply rooted that beech tree planta- 
tions are often resorted to as a refuge in times of storm. 
But it would be a mistake to place too much trust in 
them. There are records of beech trees being struck by 
lightning and destroyed, just like bay trees, fig trees, 
and the rest. 

In 1835, an old beech tree was struck in the forest 
of Villers-Cotterets. This venerable patriarch was more 
than three hundred years old. Of its upper branches, 
which were wide and strong, four of the finest were 
destroyed ; a fifth, stripped of its bark to a great extent, 
was not torn off the trunk. The trunk was split where 
the other four branches were torn from it. The interior 
of it was blackened and slightly carbonized. 

On July 15, 1868, at Chefresne, canton de Percy 
(Manche), an oak and an ash were struck by lightning 
within five minutes of each other. 


On August 10, 1886, at Haute-Croix, in Brabant, 
an ash was struck and destroyed. On August 23, in 
the same year, an ash was struck also at Namur. 

The box tree and the Virginian creeper used to be 
regarded as safeguards against lightning. The same 
virtue was attributed to the house-leek, a thick herba- 
ceous plant, which grows usually upon walls and roofs, 
and which the Germans call Donnerblatt or Donner- 
barb, Thunder-leaf or Thunder-beard. 

According to some authors, again, lightning never 
strikes resinous trees, such as pines or firs. But this 
also is disproved by the facts, especially in regard to 

Among the many particulars I have collected of 
recent years, is the following list of sixty-five different 
kinds of trees, with the record of the number of times 
each species has been struck by lightning within a given 
period : 

54 oaks. 2 lime trees. 

24 poplars. 2 apple trees. 

14 elms. 1 mountain ash. 

11 walnut trees. 1 mulberry tree. 

10 firs. 1 alder. 

7 willows. 1 laburnum. 

6 pine trees. 1 acacia. 

6 ash trees. 1 pseudo-acacia. 

6 beech trees. 1 fig tree. 


4 pear trees. 1 orange tree. 

4 cherry trees. 1 olive tree. 

4 chestnut trees. birch. 

3 catalpas. maple. 

Height obviously accounts for a good deal. It is 
incontestable that, in the case of a clump of trees 
standing in the middle of a plain, lightning will in 
most cases pick out the tallest. But this is not an 
absolute rule. The isolation of trees, their qualities as 
conductors, the degree of moisture in the soil in which 
they are rooted, their distance from the storm clouds, 
the character of their foliage and of their roots all 
these things are important factors. 

Numerous experiments have been made with a view 
to ascertaining the amount of resistance offered to the 
electric spark by different kinds of wood. Similar 
pieces of beech and oak have been exposed lengthwise 
to the electric spark given out by one of Holtz's 
machines, with the result that the oak wood was pierced 
by the electric fluid after one or two revolutions of the 
machine, whereas for the beech wood a dozen or twenty 
were needed. Black poplar wood and willow offer a 
moderate resistance : a few revolutions suffice to pene- 
trate them. 

In all instances the susceptibility of the wood 
depends on the sap. It has been proved by analysis 
that the woods which contain starch with but little oil, 


such as the oak, poplar, willow, maple, elm, and ash, 
offer much less resistance to the electric current than 
those trees which are richer in fatty matter, as the 
beech tree, walnut tree, lime tree, birch tree, and so on. 

These conclusions are corroborated by the case of 
the pine tree, the wood of which has a great quantity 
of oil in winter, but in summer lacks it as much as 
those trees which contain more starch. 

Experiments have proved that in summer this 
wood is quite as likely to serve as a conductor as the 
oak ; while in winter its resistance to the electric spark 
equals that of the beech and other trees which are 
rarely struck by lightning. Decayed trees are excellent 
conductors of electricity; those in full vigour being 
much more rarely struck. 

In any case, it has been proved that the effects of 
lightning are particularly severe in the vegetable world. 
It has been pointed out elsewhere in this little book 
to what dangers those persons are exposed who take 
shelter beneath the trees during a thunderstorm ; there 
are innumerable examples of the imprudence of taking 
refuge from the rain under thick foliage, people having 
been killed by a fireball for lightning does not always 
take the trouble to make a selection, sparing neither 
the protector nor the protected. 

We shall give some more instances, chosen from a 
considerable number of similar observations. 


In 1888, ten reapers, surprised by drops of rain 
and distant rumbling of thunder, left their work and 
took refuge beneath a big walnut tree. But one of 
them having questioned the security of this retreat, 
all immediately fled in the direction of a neighbouring 
wood, except one young girl of fourteen years. Several 
who returned to advise her to- follow them, saw her 
smilingly throw her arms round the trunk of the tree, 
and almost at once fall backwards, her arms extended. 
She was dead. 

On the 22nd of August in the same year, four 
labourers, returning from work, were overtaken by a 
thunderstorm. Three of them stopped under an elm, 
the fourth prudently continued on his way. Well it 
was for him. Several minutes later, the lightning 
struck the tree, killing two of the labourers outright, 
and grievously wounding the third. The latter was 
found almost completely naked ; his garments, burnt 
and tattered, were scattered round him. When he 
came to himself, he was in such a violent delirium that 
it was necessary for several men to bring the unfortunate 
victim to his home, where he died shortly afterwards 
in the most horrible agony. 

About six o'clock, on the 23rd of June, seven men 
employed on the farm of Puy-Crouel, were working in 
a field of beet-root. Overcome with the heat, they 
went into the shade of a walnut tree. All at once, 


a flash of lightning illumined the sky ; the seven 
workmen were thrown down, one of them being hurled 
several yards away. Three of them were able to get 
up and go to the farm, the others were severely burnt, 
and half asphyxiated. One of the victims had his 
back skinned the whole length of the vertebral column ; 
the other had his face scratched, as if torn by finger- 
nails. All had lost their memory. The walnut tree 
under which they had sheltered was cleft from top to 

Here is another example no less terrible 

Seven children, belonging to Ahrens, were caught 
in a thunderstorm as they were coming home from the 
fields, and took shelter under a tree. The lightning 
killed the seven little people. 

Another time, four young men taking refuge under 
an oak, were struck and thrown down. One of them 
was killed instantly, his companions were cruelly 

On the 10th of July, in Belgium, a woman gather- 
ing cherries was killed on a tree which attracted the 
fluid. A young man standing beneath it was paralyzed. 

We might multiply these tragic tales ; each year 
a number of similar cases happen. The imprudence 
of human beings is truly incorrigible ! 

Everybody, however feeble his instinct of self- 
preservation, should flee the vicinity of trees during 



a thunderstorm, and allow himself to be drenched on 
the road, rather than offer his life as a too generous 
burnt-offering to the lightning, for the oak's robust 
trunk, or that of the poplar, elegantly plumed with 
its graceful foliage, may be the altar on which the 
sacrifices in honour of Jupiter are made. 

The wood of trees is not so good a conductor of 
electricity as the human body. For this reason, a 
person leaning against a tree receives the full discharge ; 
at times the tree is splintered, because it did not serve 
as a perfect conductor. 

Yet the conductive power of certain species is so 
remarkable, that the neighbourhood of particular trees 
may be regarded as a protection against lightning (this, 
however, without coming in contact with them !). 

The tips of the branches pointing towards the 
clouds, and the moisture they receive, undoubtedly 
influence the electricity of the atmosphere ; and, more- 
over, by means of these graceful branches, an inaudible 
but continual exchange is effected between the electricity 
of the earth and sky, thus holding the balance between 
two opposite charges. 

Colladon asserts that poplars planted near houses 
may, in favourable conditions, act as lightning con- 
ductors, on account of their height and powers of 
conducting. He adds that it is necessary to take 
other circumstances regarding the situation of the 


dwelling into account, which are not always easy to 
define. Their protection of the neighbourhood is not 
constantly the same. For it to be effectual, the 
foliage should be very low, and they should be at 
least two metres distant from the roof and walls. 
Their roots, too, should be in a damp soil, and metal 
should not enter largely into the construction of the 
neighbouring houses. In these conditions, poplars may 
fulfil the useful functions of lightning conductors. 

At times, during a storm, several trees are struck 
by the same flash. For instance, on May 23, 1886, 
in Belgium, three poplars were blasted by a single 

On the other hand, trees planted in lines are some- 
times struck alternately. A case occurred where the 
lightning seemed to have taken aim and touched all the 
odd numbers in a row without striking the others. 

Certain plantations act on the fluid with an extra- 
ordinary intensity. 

At Lovenjoul, in Belgium, a wood of undergrowth 
and big trees, planted in marshy ground, seems to 
possess this singular privilege, and the agriculturists of 
the country declare that no storm ever passes their way 
without lightning falling there. In the middle of this 
wood one can count seven oaks, near to one another, 
struck by it. Not far off, a huge ash, and a little 
farther away two poplars, likewise blasted. 


All the trees have not been struck in the same way ; 
some are scorched or stripped of their leaves; the 
others have their trunks perforated, or split in different 
parts. Usually trees are cleft from top to bottom ; in 
some cases the furrow is horizontal or perpendicular in 
the direction of the branches. 

Pieces of bark or of wood are sometimes torn off 
lengthwise, and only adhere to the trunk in strips here 
and there. But that does not prove conclusively that 
the lightning struck upwards from the ground ; it may 
have rebounded (?) after striking from above. 

Certain effects, however, can only be explained by 
an ascending movement of the fluid. The following 
cases for example : 

"During the summer of 1787, two men were 
sheltering under a tree at Tancon, Beaujolais, when 
they were struck by lightning. One of them was 
killed on the spot, the other felt no ill effects other 
than momentary suffocation. Their horses were caught 
up to the top of the tree. An iron ring which bound 
the wooden shoe belonging to one of the men, was found 
hanging from a high branch of the same tree. Now, 
at a little distance, there was a tree which had also 
suffered greatly by the passage of the electric fluid. 
In the soil at its base a round hole was to be seen, 
shaped like a funnel. Directly above it the bark had 
been loosened and slit into slender thongs. As for the 


tree beneath which the men had sheltered, it also had 
half its bark off, and long splinters were to be seen 
hanging only by the upper parts. On one side of the 
tree the leaves were withered, on the other they were 
still quite green."" 

In this most remarkable instance the lightning had 
come out of the ground. 

In the cleft of a willow tree blasted by lightning 
its roots were found. 

Besides, the soil is often undulating, and thrown up 
around trees which have been struck. 

Vegetables do not always succumb, any more than 
men, to these attacks. They may be lightly struck in 
a vital part, in which case they recover from their 
wounds. Very often they are merely stripped of their 
natural garments, in other words, of their bark and 
foliage. This is one of those superficial injuries to 
which they are most subject. 

The following is an example of this kind of 
fulguration : 

On July 16, 1708, two oaks were struck at 
Brampton. The larger measured about ten feet around 
the base. They were both split asunder, and the bark 
peeled off from the summit to the soil, a length of 
twenty-eight feet. Completely detached from the 
trunk, it hung in long strips from the top. 

Boussingault witnessed the destruction by lightning 


of a wild pear tree at Lamperlasch, near Beekelleronn. 
At the moment of the explosion an enormous column 
of vapour arose, like smoke coming out of a chimney 
when fresh coal has been put on the fire. The light- 
ning flashed in all directions, great branches gave way, 
and when the vapour cleared off, there stood the pear 
tree, its trunk a dazzling white: the lightning had 
taken the bark completely off. Sometimes the bark is 
only partially stripped off one side, or left on, in more 
or less regular bands, either on the trunk or on the 

During a violent storm at Juvisy, on May 18, 1897, 
an elm five hundred metres distant from the Observa- 
tory was struck by lightning, which took the bark off 
lengthwise in a strip, four centimetres wide and five 
centimetres deep. This band of bark was cut clean off. 
There was no trace of burning. 

Sometimes only the mosses and lichens are whisked 
off the sides of the trees, which escape with light 
scratches. Two great oaks which had been struck by 
fireballs, only bore traces of two punctures which might 
have been made by small shot. 

Moreover, it is not uncommon to see the bark 
riddled with a multitude of little holes, like those 
made by worms. 

Two men were struck by lightning near Casal 
Maggiore on August 15, 1791, beneath an elm tree. 


One of them had his elbow on the tree at the moment, 
and amongst other injuries were a number of little 
holes in the arm. There was a twist in the tree at the 
part where the elbow rested, and a hole penetrated the 
centre of it to the core of the wood. The surrounding 
bark looked as if it had been mite-eaten. Several 
scars started from this point and ascended almost 
perpendicularly towards the top of the trunk. There 
was no damage done to the branches. 

Lightning cut through a chestnut tree, five metres 
high, on the roadside at Foulain (Haute-Marne), 
burning several leaves, then struck some water-pipes at 
a depth of a metre and a half, and finally passed into 
the dike through two holes a metre deep by a 
decimetre in diameter. 

The bark is often reduced to thin splinters scattered 
on the soil, or hanging from the neighbouring trees, 
or even thrown to a considerable distance. 

On June 25, a fireball fell near Jare (Landes) 
on a pine tree, which it shivered into a myriad slender 
strips, about 2 metres long, many of which were 
caught on the branches of pines within a distance of 
15 metres. Only a stump, 2 metres in height, re- 
mained standing. At the same time three other pines, 
which stood 18 and 25 metres away from the first, were 
destroyed. The bark had been stripped off each, but 
only as far as the incision made for extracting the resin. 


Furrows, of varying width, and running in different 
directions, may at times be seen on trees, some short, 
others reaching to the top of the tree, and occasionally 
to the roots. These marks show the passing of the 

Sir John Clark has seen a huge oak in Cumberland, 
at least 60 feet high and 4s feet in diameter, from 
which the lightning had stripped a piece of bark, about 
10 centimetres wide and 5 centimetres thick, the whole 
length of the trunk in a straight line. 

The furrow is not always single, it may be double, 
and either stretch in two parallel lines or diverge. 

The Chevalier de Louville observed in the park of 
the castle at Nevers, a tree struck at the top of the 
trunk by lightning which, dividing in three shafts, 
hollowed three furrows that might have been made by 
three rifle shots fired towards the roots. These three 
furrows followed the irregularities of the trunk, always 
slipping, gliding between the wood and the bark, and 
curiously enough the former was not burnt. 

But these bands are not invariably straight either ; 
in the above example they followed the caprices of the 
vegetable body. They are to be found oblique in 
certain cases, but more often they surround the trunk 
in long spirals of varying width, showing that the 
lightning clasped the tree in the form of a serpent 
of fire. 


Here is an example : 

During a violent storm on July 17, 1895, a poplar 
was blasted on the road through the forest of Moladier, 
160 metres north-west of the castle of Valliere. The 
tree was 25 metres high, and in full leaf from base to 
summit ; it was struck halfway up by the discharge, 
and a spiral furrow 10 centimetres wide twisted round 
the trunk to the ground. 

I noted a similar case, August 25, 1901. 

Lightning struck one of the highest trees in the 
park at Juvisy, a magnificent ash, stripping off and 
destroying the bark where the electric fluid curved 
round and round down the full length of the trunk, 
which was shattered by the meteor a few metres above 
the roots. Enormous fragments lay all round the 
trunk, some hurled to such a distance that it was 
obvious the explosive force of the phenomenon must 
have been of extraordinary violence. 

I was able to trace the course of the lightning to 
the foot of the tree, along its roots to a great depth, 
by a black furrow. 

The tree is not dead. The ivy which clung to it is 

The vast and splendid forest of Saint Germain 
often witnesses the presence of the lightning, and 
the magnificent trees which adorn and beautify this 
charming and celebrated place are, unfortunately, 


too often the victims of these inopportune visita- 

Lightning has no respect for old memories. It 
demolished with a single flash a superb giant whose 
long branches, laden with perfumed leaves, had given 
shade to many generations. The splendid tree, which 
had survived the severity of several centuries, fell 
beneath the arrow of the pernicious fluid. Such was 
the fate of an oak near TEtoile du Grand- Veneur. 
Struck on the top, its upper branches were violently 
torn off. ... A spiral furrow beginning at the top 
ended within a metre of the ground. But, wonderful 
to relate, the whole mass of the tree appeared to have 
been twisted mightily by a force which worked with 
so much power that the tree could never regain its 
original position. The fibre, instead of growing verti- 
cally, followed the furrow made by the lightning, and 
became twisted like a corkscrew. There exist certain 
singular trees, the fibre of which grows in spiral 
fashion, and is called twisted wood by carpenters 
and cabinet-makers. Pines and firs in mountainous 
countries are fairly often affected in this curious 
fashion. One can no more account for it than one 
can define the cause of the curved form of some flashes 
of lightning. One does not know exactly if they 
should be attributed to their following the direction 
taken by the fibre, or whether, on the contrary, the 


tree had been struck in its infancy by a spiral flash, 
and, submitting to that influence, continued to grow 
up corkscrew fashion. 

It is most probable that the fall of the thunder- 
ball on the trees in this manner is governed by the laws 
of electricity. We may even note casually that traces 
of similar spirals have been remarked on objects as well 
as on the dead bodies of those struck by lightning, thus 
preserving the ceraunic likeness of the mortal blow. 

Other observers, besides, have declared that they 
saw distinctly the spiral lightning flash through the 
atmosphere. But these observations would need to be 
confirmed by photographs of indisputable accuracy. 
In these circumstances, as in many others, the dark 
room is worth a hundred human eyes ! 

In some cases the curved furrow turns several times. 
For instance, in May, 1850, Grebel saw an alder nearly 
twenty metres high struck by lightning on the right 
bank of the Elster below Zeitz. On the lower part of 
its trunk were two spiral bands which had carried away 
bark and sap-wood, leaving no trace of combustion. 

The depth and width of the twist are very variable ; 
at times the furrow is deeper in the veined parts than 
at the edges ; again it reaches the core. 

Two oaks were struck in June, 1742, in the park at 
Thornden. One was marked with a spiral for a length 
of forty feet to within a little distance of the ground. 


The band was five inches wide, but became narrower as 
it descended, and was finally no more than two inches 
wide. The wood was incised and even torn in places, 
but the branches were not hurt. The rest of the bark 
seemed to have been riddled by small shot. 

All the injuries of which we have spoken (ex- 
coriation, stripping off the bark, furrows), are not 
necessarily mortal. But there are other more serious 
wounds from which the tree rarely recovers. We 
allude to deep fissures and breaks produced by 
lightning. When the fracture touches only a portion 
of the topmost part of the tree, the result of the acci- 
dent is not necessarily fatal. But this is not always so. 

On May 14, 1865, a poplar was split in two by 
lightning at Montigny-sur-Loing. One half to the 
full height continued standing. The other half was 
chopped up in small fragments and thrown to a 
distance of a hundred metres. These pieces, which 
were brought to me by M. Fouche, are so dried up 
and fibrous that they might be taken for hemp instead 
of wood. 

In the majority of these cases the tree is split from 
top to bottom. 

On July 5, 1884, in Belgium, a poplar, the 
biggest of a group of trees of the same species, was 
struck and split down its full length. 

In the month of August, 1853, on the side of the 


road from Ville-cTAvray to Versailles, a poplar of about 
twenty years old was cleft from the topmost bough to 
its roots ; one half remained in its place, the other fell 
on the road. A black line, about a millimetre wide, 
ran down the centre of the tree. 

Sometimes the tree is divided into several parts by 
vertical fissures. For example, in 1827, near Vicence, 
a pear tree, three feet in diameter, was split into four 
parts, from the top down. 

How often one has remarked great tree trunks in 
the forests, decayed and desolate, standing sadly, like 
poor headless bodies ? Very often lightning has been 
the executioner of these trees. 

In the month of May, 1867, in the forest of Fon- 
tainebleau, a magnificent oak, about two metres in 
circumference, was completely decapitated by lightning ; 
its branches fell on the ground. The part of the 
trunk left standing was barked to the roots and 
splintered into fragments of varying sizes. They 
were scattered on the ground or hung from the 
branches of the surrounding trees. Several pieces of 
considerable size were hurled more than thirty metres 
away, much to the injury of the bark of the trees 
which they struck. 

In numerous cases, the tree struck by lightning is 
broken in several places, and fragments of it thrown 
far and wide. 


On July 2, 1871, at the farm of Etiefs, near 
Rouvres, canton of Auberive (Haute-Marne), lightning 
struck an Italian poplar, sixty years old, thirty 
metres high, and three metres round at a height 
of one metre from the ground, splintering off enough 
wood to make a heap sixty-five centimetres round, and 
fifty centimetres high. 

An ash was struck by lightning on July 17, 
1895, on the road to Clermont. This tree, ten 
metres high, was broken at a point 85 metres from 
the ground, and the crown, still hanging by a shred 
from the trunk, lay on the embankment. The violence 
of the explosion threw pieces thirty centimetres wide 
and 3 metres in length, into a field from twenty- 
five to thirty metres off. 

On July 4, 1884, in Belgium, a willow was 
reduced to a heap of atoms on the ground. In March, 
1818, at Plymouth, a fir more than a hundred feet 
high and forty feet in circumference, the admiration 
of the countryside, disappeared, literally shattered into 
bits. Some fragments were thrown two hundred and 
fifty metres away. 

One of the most curious effects of lightning is to 
divide the interior of the tree into concentric layers, 
fitting them perfectly one into the other, but at the 
same time separating them with extraordinary pre- 

Arbres roules (thus are the trees called which are 
victims of this odd phenomenon), as a rule, do not 
show any injury on the outside. But the body, 
dissected by the electric fluid, soon succumbs. 

An oak, twenty-five metres high, having been 
struck on August 25, 1818, was opened to be 
examined carefully, and it was stated that the con- 
centric layers were as detached from one another as the 
tubes of an opera-glass. 

The fireball sometimes hollows a canal through 
the centre of the trees from the top to the bottom, the 
sides of which are bunit black. The following is a 
curious example : 

In June, 1823, at Moisselles, lightning fell upon a 
great elm, and striking against an enormous knob, 
rebounded on to a neighbouring elm half its own 
height, pierced it through and through, shivering it 
to tatters; the trunk was burst open to the roots, 
it looked as if it had been bored through from one end 
to the other by a red-hot bullet that blackened and 
charred it. 

Does it not seem as if the lightning plays with the 
lives of the trees as with man ? It threatens, changes, 
apparently spares, returns to the charge and finally 
annihilates. And this sport is accompanied, at times, 
by inconceivable effects. 

But records are still more eloquent than reflections : 


Nature, in her own mute speech, tells us of a thousand 

Is not the following phenomenon enough to make 
lightning more mysterious in its fantastic and varied 
mode of action ? 

On the 19th of April, lightning struck an oak in 
the forest of Vibraye (Sarthe), cut this tree, measuring 
a metre and a half in circumference, at two-thirds of its 
height, pulverized the lower parts, strewed the shreds 
over a circuit of fifty metres, and planted the upper 
part exactly on the spot from which the trunk had 
been snatched, with all the rapidity of a flash. 

Moreover, the annual concentric circles were 
separated by the sudden drying up of the sap so 
effectually, that, the strips only remained welded 
together where the knots made too great an obstacle 
to their separation. 

How was the lightning able to plant in the earth, 
with such inconceivable rapidity, the top of the tree 
where the roots had been ? This is something which 
no one can explain. It alone is capable of creating 
such situations. 

But it has done better still ! Two years later, in 
1868, it took the opportunity of playing a good trick 
on two trees of different species, an English oak and a 
forest pine, which, without race jealousy, fraternized in 
the forest of Pont-de-Bussiere (Haute- Vienne). These 


two trees were about ten yards apart, and were simul- 
taneously hit by the explosive matter, and in the 
twinkling of an eye, their leaves were changed. The 
pine needles found themselves on the oak, and the 
leaves of the oak went to brighten the austerity of the 
pine with their delicate verdure. There was nothing 
commonplace about the metamorphosis. Accordingly 
all the inhabitants went in crowds to the scene of this 
miracle to contemplate the unusual spectacle of a pine- 
oak and an oak -pine. 

And the unexpected happened : both trees appeared 
to thrive very well in these new conditions : the pine 
continued to be agreeably adorned with its festival 
foliage, whilst the oak agreed perfectly with the sombre 
needles of the pine. 

After such marvels, my readers will not be surprised 
to learn that lightning sometimes shatters the living 
wood, or decayed wood, into a thousand morsels without 
setting it on fire. 

For instance, a bundle of faggots lying on the 
hearth has been reduced to atoms by lightning, without 
any trace of combustion being visible. 

A fireball fell on a sheaf of barley in the open field 
without setting it on fire, and buried itself in the ground 
without doing other further damage. 

In certain cases the electric fluid chars wood at 
varying depths : the blackened layer is often very 



slight ; sometimes, on the contrary, combustion is 

As for the leaves, they are unhurt as a rule. When 
they are attacked they shrivel up ; an autumnal shade 
takes the place of their charming green tints ; they 
turn brown and dry up quickly. 

One of the trees in the Champs-Elysees having 
been struck, it was proved that all round it the ground 
was full of little holes. In two or three places the bark 
was raised from beneath ; the leaves were yellow and 
shrivelled up as parchment would be by the fire ; the 
upper part remained green. Everything seemed to 
prove that the lightning came out of the ground. 

At other times the same effect may be observed on 
the leaves, when the trunk and roots are apparently 
uninjured. It is not unusual to see the tree instantly 
stripped of its leaves as if by some mysterious power. 

The lightning acts also on the roots, as we have 
seen in the preceding examples. They have been seen 
uncovered where the ground was much disturbed, torn 
in strips, or cleft in more or less regular pieces. 

We see that lightning does not make more ado 
about exhaling its baleful breath on the life of plants, 
than on animals and men. And moreover, that it often 
strikes these latter with sudden death without leaving 
a trace of its passing, just as sometimes it strikes the 
trees without leaving any exterior injury. Now and 


then life is not completely extinguished, and little by 
little the tree recovers its health. Often the vitality 
is not changed, one sees the tree which was struck bear 
fruit as before the catastrophe. 

Has it not been asserted that lightning may exert a 
benign influence on vegetation ? 

This Avas the opinion of the ancients. 

A propos of this, Pliny said, "That thunder is 
rarely heard in winter, and that the great fertility of 
the soil is due to the frequency of thunder and rain in 
spring ; for the countries where it rains often and in 
good earnest during the spring, as in the island of 
Sicily, produce many and excellent fruits." 

It has been proved in our times that the ancients 
were right in extolling rainwater as nourishment for 
the products of the earth, and science has discovered 
the cause to be the presence of great quantities of 
nitrogen and ammonia in the thunder-rain and in hail. 
Perhaps electricity has a similar effect. 

In the neighbourhood of Castres, on April 13, 
1781, an old poplar was stripped of its bark in several 
places. Now, shortly afterwards it burst into leaf, 
although the neighbouring poplars were much later 
than it. 

The ravages caused in the fields by the electric 
meteor to forage and vegetables are sometimes con- 
siderable. This is especially so with grass when cut, 


to haycocks, ricks of straw, barley, etc. We have 
a collection of records of men or animals who, when 
leaning against haystacks, were struck. 

As a rule the haystack is burnt ; sometimes, however, 
the grass is simply scattered and thrown to a distance. 

In 1888, a very curious occurrence was observed at 
Vayres (Haute- Vienne). 

The lightning struck a field of potatoes at the 
village of Puytreuillard ; some of the stalks were burnt 
to cinders ; but most remarkable of all, the potatoes 
were done to a turn, just as if they had been cooked 
beneath hot ashes. 

A belief which was very general in ancient times 
and derived without doubt from a recollection of the 
circumstances which were said to accompany the birth 
of Bacchus, gave the vine the privilege of protecting 
the neighbourhood from the fatal effects of lightning. 
But this again is only a legend. The following obser- 
vation proves it : 

On July 10, 1884, at Chanvres (Yonne), fifty vine- 
stocks were frizzled up by lightning. 

It used to be supposed, too, that the electric fluid 
held the lily in particular respect. But here is a note 
which shows us that the white flower is visited by the 
burning flashes. During a violent thunder-storm on 

June 25, 1881, at Montmorin (Haute-Garonne) 

But let M. Larroque, who witnessed the curious 


phenomenon, describe it : " In a clump of lilies in my 
garden, 11 says he, " I see the highest of them surrounded 
by a violet glimmer, which formed an aureola round 
the corolla. This glimmer lasted for eight or ten 
seconds. As soon as it disappeared, I went close to 
the lily, which, to my great surprise, I found had been 
deprived of its pollen, while the surrounding flowers 
were laden with it. So the electric fluid must have 
scattered or carried off the pollen. 11 

When Jupiter thunders, he still seems to dominate 
our world, as in the days when the graceful legends of 
mythology flourished. 

And not only does he work above ground, but, 
contrary to the belief of the ancients, his influence 
extends beneath the soil. 

A great number of men were working in the mines 
at Himmelsfurth on July 5, 1755. They were, as 
often happens, working at various points along the 
vein of metal, and never dreaming of the events which 
might take place on the surface of the ground. All 
at once they were conscious of several very violent 
shocks, given in the oddest and most extravagant 
fashion. Some felt the shock in their backs, while 
their neighbours received them on their arms or legs. 
They might have been shaken by a mysterious in- 
visible hand, stretching now up from below, now from 
above, now from the sides of the galleries. One of 


the miners found himself hurled against the wall, two 
others, whose backs were turned, almost came to blows, 
each believing that his mate had thumped him. 

The real culprit was the thunder, of whom they might 
well demand an explanation of these strange proceedings. 

Here is another example which bears out the fore- 

On the 25th of May, the watchman on guard at 
the pit mouth of one of the principal mines at Frey- 
berg, perceived an electric glimmer run along the wire 
rope going to the bottom of the mines, and used by 
the miners to exchange signals with the men employed 
in working the lifts. Suddenly all the pits were 
brilliantly lit up. At the same moment the watchman 
saw a clear vivid flame shoot out at the other end of 
the chain. On this occasion the lightning behaved 
with due discretion, and shone through the mine 
without giving any one the slightest shock. 

In vain the monster Tiberius, and the infamous 
Caligula, sought a subterranean refuge from lightning. 
Their impure consciences, laden with crimes, dreaded 
the chastisement of heaven. By fleeing from the light- 
ning flash, they believed themselves saved from death. 
Lightning dogs our footsteps, and works even when 
the criminals believe themselves in safety. It is con- 
ceivable that the ancients should have dreaded it as an 
instrument of celestial justice. 


Usually lightning strikes the ground with a vertical 
stroke, but at times obliquely, when it traces long, 
horizontal lines. Often the ground may be seen turned 
up at the foot of trees which have been struck, the 
sod is torn, and stones thrown to a great distance. 
Sometimes, too, an excavation may be seen in the 
ground near the object struck, of varying breadth 
and height. This opening may be like a funnel or 

In a case observed on June 6, 1883, at Cote 
(Haute-Saone), a circular hole, having a depth of 1 '20 
metres, has been seen in a dyke on the declivity of the 
road, below a coach which was not struck. 

Occasionally the hole is but the beginning of a 
canal, hollowed rather deeply and perpendicularly in 
the ground, the sides of which serve as a sheath to 
the fulgurite. But before treating of fulgurite tubes, 
which constitute the most curious phenomena in the 
world connected with lightning, we shall discuss certain 
remarkable effects observed on the surface of the 

Falling on solid rocks, the electric spark can break 
them, cut them, or pierce them in one or more places. 
Often instead of spoiling or cutting oft 1 pieces of the 
stone, it covers the surface instantaneously with a 
vitreous coat, having blisters of various colours. This 
vitrification is often to be seen on mountains. 


De Saussure found rocks of schistous amphiboles 
covered with vitreous bubbles, like those seen on tiles 
where struck by lightning. Humboldt made similar 
observations on porphyritic rocks at Nevada de Toluca, 
in Mexico, and Ramond, at the Sanadoire rock in 

In these cases, the spark, on reaching the surface, 
melts it more or less completely over a varying extent, 
and this fusion, worked upon by an extraordinary heat, 
produces a coat having a peculiar appearance, but in 
which microscopical analysis finds the elements of the 
body it covers. 

Thus the vitreous layer deposited over chalk is of 
chalky origin ; that covering granite is of the nature of 
granite, etc. 

This does not apply to certain deposits found on 
rocks, and even on trees, which have been struck by 
lightning, and which are of very different origin. 

Whilst the former is only the stone in a fused 
or vitrified condition, the latter is caused by the 
presence of foreign bodies, some fragments of which 
have been detached by the ray and travel with it. 
This transport of solid substances by lightning has 
often been observed. Here are two examples of this 
strange phenomenon : 

On July 28, 1885, at Luchon, on the Bigorre 
road a passer-by saw lightning fall twenty yards away 


from him. Recovered from the shock, he went out 
of curiosity to look at the result, and saw the wall at 
the edge of the road, the schistous and chalky rocks, 
even the trees themselves, coated over with layers of 
brown. It was certainly a case of the lightning having 
effected a deposit. This latter was very curious. Lines 
could be traced on it with the finger-nail, it fell to 
powder under slight pressure, became soft with gentle 
rubbing, caught fire from a candle, and then gave off 
a resinous odour with much smoke. What is this 
resinous matter ? That is what no one yet can say. 

In the month of July, 1885, on the day following 
a violent thunderstorm which had struck the telegraph- 
office in the station of Savigny-sur-Orge, I myself 
picked up a little black powder off the telegraph poles, 
which had been left by the lightning, and which had a 
sulphurous smell. 

The production of this ponderable matter has often 
been attributed to bolides, but direct observation proves 
beyond a doubt that the electricity carries various solid 
substances found on earth after a storm. 

Lightning is truly the most venerable of glass- 
makers. Long before the most remote peoples of 
antiquity appeared, whose glasswares encrusted with 
marvellous iridescent tones by the passing of the 
centuries, are unearthed by scientific excavations, and 
displayed in national collections; long before man 


could have learnt to make use of the resources of 
nature, lightning, burrowing in the sand, there fashioned 
tubes of glass that hold the hues of the opal, and are 
called fulgurites. 

The ancients seem to have known of these fulgurite 
tubes, but we owe the first precise description and the 
first specimen of these extraordinary vitrifactions to 
Hermann, a pastor at Massel in Silesia. His fulgurite, 
found in 1711, is in the Dresden Museum. 

Since this discovery, fulgurites have often been 
sought for and found. The tubes, contracted at one 
end, and ending in a point, are to be seen in sandy soils. 

Their diameter varies from 1 to 90 millimetres, 
and the thickness of their sides from half to 24 milli- 
metres. As to the length, it sometimes exceeds 6 
metres. Vitrified inside, they are covered outside with 
grains of sand agglutinated and apparently rounded 
as if they had been subjected to a beginning of fusion. 
The colour depends on the nature of the sand in which 
they have been formed. Where the sand is ferruginous 
the fulgurite takes a yellowish hue, but if the sand is 
very clean, it is almost colourless or even white. As 
a rule, the fulgurites penetrate the ground vertically, 
Nevertheless, they have been found in an oblique 
position. At times, also, they are sinuous, twisted, or 
even zigzag if they have met with pebbles of con- 
siderable size. 


It is not uncommon for the fulgurite tube to divide 
in two or three branches, each of which gives birth to 
little lateral branches of 2 or 3 centimetres long, and 
ending in points. 

There are also solid fulgurites and foliated fulgurites. 
The former, no doubt, had a canal originally, which has 
been stopped up by matter in fusion. The latter, 
instead of being stretched out in cylindrical form, are 
composed of slender layers like the leaves of a book. 

The scientific museum at the Observatory of Juvisy 
possesses a very curious fulgurite which was offered to 
me some years ago by M. Bernard d'Attanoux, and 
found by him in Sahara. It is not a tube ending in a 
point. The lightning penetrating the sand, vitrified 
it on its passage, and branched irregularly in three 
principal directions. One might say it was slag formed 
by the juxtaposition, irregular and crumpled, of three 
blades of vitrified sand, which would be pressed together 
by leaving a narrow opening to their central vertical 
axis. This fulgurite, which is extremely light, measures 
six centimetres in length. It was found in the sand of 
Grand-Erg, at a depth of several centimetres. It has 
been found possible to produce miniature fulgurites by 
means of our electrical machines. By adding ordinary 
salt to the sand, and directing a strong current into it, 
complete vitrification of a tube of several millimetres 
is obtained. 



WHEN lightning strikes the earth, it makes straight for 
metals. Their perfect conducting powers place them 
in the first rank of conductors, and the innumerable 
cases of lightning with which they are associated 
have gained them a certain celebrity in the annals of 

We know, indeed, the preference of the spark for 
metals ; we know it nurses a veritable passion for nails, 
wire, bell-pulls, that it dotes on rain-spouts, leaden 
pipes, and telegraph wires, that it is very feminine in 
its adoration of jewels, which it sublimates sometimes 
with a truly fantastic dexterity. 

Now and then lightning deviates from its path, 
and performs acrobatic feats, elfin capers to reach the 
objects it covets. On April 24, 1842, it struck the 
church of Brexton, springing on the cross of the steeple 
at first and running down the stem, but, arrived at 
the masonry which supported it, broke it into pieces ; 



then with one bound it fell upon a second conductor, 
whose support was also broken. Finally, it struck a 
third conductor much lower down. 

The fluid often searches for metals hidden beneath 
non-conductors, which it breaks or pierces. It avoids 
the mattress to pursue the iron of the bed, glances off 
the windows to glide over the curtain-rods, or the lead 
of the sash. It has been seen to penetrate thick walls 
to reach the iron safes hidden behind them. 

We have already mentioned the case of the woman 
who, without having been killed, had her ear-ring split. 
Well, we have a certain number of similar examples to 

On June 1, 1809, in a boarding-school for young 
ladies, at Bordeaux, a gold chain, worn by one of the 
young ladies, was melted by the lightning, which left a 
black indented line in its place, which, however, soon 
passed off. The lady was struck, but recovered con- 
sciousness within a few hours, being none the worse. 
Her slender chain, worn in three rows round her 
neck, had been cut into five pieces. Some of the frag- 
ments showed signs of fusion, and had been carried to 
a distance. 

Other examples, in which the consequences were 
more dramatic, will show ladies the dangers of a love 
of adornment. 

On September 21, 1901, during a violent 


thunderstorm which burst over the region of Nar- 
bonne, a fireball fell in the domain of Castelou. 
A young girl of fourteen was fatally struck by the 
meteor. The gold chain which she wore round her 
throat was completely evaporated. There was not a 
trace of it to be found. 

It is not unusual to see gold chains broken, melted, 
partially or completely, in the pocket which had held 

Thus, lightning melted a watch and chain into a 
single lump in the pocket of a man killed on board a 
passenger boat. 

Bracelets, hairpins, and even precious stones are 
sometimes very strangely altered. 

As for watches, without speaking of the magnetiza- 
tion observed after a violent electrical discharge, it has 
been remarked that the movement became slower. In 
some cases they stopped short, and marked the exact 
instant when the lightning stopped them. 

When the ship Eagle was struck by lightning, none 
of the passengers were injured, but all their watches 
stopped at the moment the shock took place. 

At other times there are peculiarities in the works 
which are absolutely inexplicable. The following obser- 
vation, related by Biot, is a curious case in point. 

A young man was slightly struck by lightning in 
the street of Grenelle-Saint-Germain. His watch was 


in no wise hurt outside, but, although it was only a 
quarter-past eleven, the hands pointed to a quarter to 

Convinced that it was in need of repair, the young 
man placed it on his table, intending to take it to the 
watchmaker ; but next day, thinking he would wind it 
up to make sure of the extent of the damage, he saw, 
to his amazement, the hands moved and kept regular 

In some instances the case of the watch is seriously 
injured, while the works are none the worse. 

A man wore a watch with a double cap attached to 
a gold chain. The chain was broken, some of the links 
soldered together. The cap had been perforated, and 
the gold spilt in his pocket. The watch itself had not 
been altered. 

But if lightning sometimes stops the works of 
watches, it also produces the contrary effect. 

Beyer relates that a flash of lightning, having entered 
a room and broken the corner of a glass, set a watch 
going which had been stopped for a long time. 

I find the following note amongst my papers : 
" M. Coulvier-Gravier, director of the meteoric obser- 
vatory of the palace of Luxembourg, told me yesterday 
that on Sunday, April 8, at 9.35 in the evening, a 
watch (wound up), which had stopped a week pre- 
viously, went on at the moment lightning struck the 


lightning conductor on the Luxembourg above these 

Often enough the case is badly injured : the polish 
is rubbed off the metal, it is melted, bored through, 
and even dented, without any trace of fusion. 

A case of the latter is rare. Here is an example, 

In the month of June, 1853, a man from Aigremont 
having been killed by lightning, his silver watch was 
found in his watch-pocket completely smashed. 

Indeed, one of the most common effects of lightning 
on watches is the magnetization to which the various 
pieces of steel are subjected. We have a considerable 
number of records concerning these magnetic properties. 
In one case the balance had its poles so well pointed 
that, when placed on a raft, it served as a compass. 

We may observe, by the way, that clocks and 
chronometers are sometimes as much injured also by the 
spark. It often gives an energetic twist to the needles, 
or to the spring for regulating the strokes, or it even 
melts the wheel-works, either partially or completely. 

It is difficult to form any idea of the various 
operations of lightning ; here it hurls itself down like 
a fiery torrent, there it makes itself so tiny that it can 
pass through the smallest apertures. 

Does it not even slip under women's corsets, melting 
the busks and the little knobs which serve to hook them. 


It even attacks the various metal articles which 
set off our garments, even to the shoe-buckles, 
buttons, etc. 

Keys are, as a rule, very ill-treated by the fire of 
heaven : they are twisted, flattened, melted or soldered 
to the ring from which they hang. 

On May 12, 1890, a man living at Troves returned 
to his house while a violent storm was raging. The 
moment he put his key into the lock, the white gleam 
of a dazzling flash of lightning surrounded him, the 
ring holding his keys was broken in his hand, and they 
were scattered on the threshold. 

At times, too, scissors, needles, etc., are snatched 
out of the hands of the workers, and carried some 
distance off when they are not reduced to vapour. 

At Saint-Dizier (Haute-Marne) in July, 1886, 
lightning fell on the workshop of M. Penon, a chain - 
maker. Five or six workmen were finishing their work 
or getting ready to leave. 

Entering by the window near which M. Penon who 
was absent at the time usually worked, the fluid grazed 
the bellows which were opposite, and caught up a piece 
of it, which one would have thought was cut off with 
a knife. Turning to the left, and passing behind a 
chain-maker, who felt a violent shock, it passed to a 
heap of chains which it did not damage much. All 
the links in a chain of about a metre long were, however, 



soldered together; the whole chain seemed to be 
galvanized, and the soldering was not easily broken by 
hand. Pieces of iron which had been cut and prepared 
for the manufacture, were found twisted and soldered 
together in the same way. Finally the lightning 
snatched the iron hoops from a tub, and, returning the 
same way, broke a piece of wood from a board, so as to 
go through the lower part of a partition, the masonry 
of which was carried away for a length of fifty centi- 

Very often lightning rivals the most skilful cabinet- 
makers : iron or copper nails are pulled out of a piece 
of furniture with a most amazing skill, without doing 
any harm to the material they kept in place. Ordinarily 
they are thrown far away. Here are two examples of 
this curious phenomenon : 

On September 23, 1824, lightning penetrated a 
house at Campbeltown ; the copper nails in the chairs 
were pulled out very precisely, without the stuff being 
spoiled. Some were conveyed to the corner of a box 
standing at the opposite end of the room, others were 
so solidly fixed in the partitions, that it was only with 
great difficulty that they were pulled out (Ho war). 
At another time, close to Marseilles, lightning slipped 
into a drawing-room, one might say, like a robber, 
one evening, and pilfered all the nails out of a couch 
covered with satin. Then it departed by the chimney 


through which it had entered. As for the nails, they 
were found, two years afterwards, under a tile ! 

Locks, screws, door-knobs are frequently pulled out 
by the fluid. 

Sometimes metal objects of much larger size, such 
as forks or agricultural instruments, share the same 
fate. Violently torn out of the hands of their owners, 
they start upon an aerial voyage, borne on the incan- 
descent wings of the wrathful lightning. 

Workers in the fields have often been warned of the 
dangers to which they expose themselves beneath a 
thundery sky, by carrying their implements with the 
point in the air. Each year the same accidents occur 
in precisely similar circumstances. 

The electric fluid, invited by the metal point which 
acts like a little lightning conductor, darts from the 
clouds upon this centre of attraction, and runs into the 
ordinary reservoir by the intermedial body of the man, 
who plays the role of conductor. 

Two labourers were spreading manure in a field, 
when a storm came on. It was at the beginning of 
May, 1901. Obliged to give up work, they were 
thinking of returning home. Each carried an American 
fork over his shoulder. They had come within 150 
metres of the village, when a formidable burst of 
flame took place over their heads. Instantly the two 
labourers fell, never to rise again. 


In 1903 I made notes of several cases of this kind, 
from which I shall quote the two following : 

On June 2, a labourer from the hamlet of Pair, 
commune of Taintrux (Vosges), aged forty, was 
sharpening a scythe in an orchard close to his house. 
Suddenly a terrific clap of thunder was heard, and the 
unfortunate man fell down stone dead. 

On the following day, in the same region, at 
Uzemain, not far from Epinal, a young man, twenty- 
eight years of age, went to get grass in the country. 
All at once he was struck by lightning, and his horse, 
which he was holding by the bridle, as well. The 
poor fellow had been guilty of the imprudence of 
putting his scythe on the cart with its point in the air. 
On May 27, in the Vosges, the lightning fell on 
a labourer, Cyrille Begin, who was driving a cart to 
which were yoked four horses. The unhappy man was 
struck, as well as two of the horses. 

Some authorities have attributed a doubly preserva- 
tive influence to umbrellas. The first is undoubtedly 
to shelter us from the rain ; the second, more doubtful, 
is the gift of preserving us to a certain extent from 
the strokes of the terrible meteor. Silk, having the 
property of a veritable repulsion to lightning, one 
might really believe that umbrellas, whose covers are 
often made of this fabric, are protectors against the 
fire of heaven. But the records which we possess are 


not conclusive ; if, now and then, the discharge becomes 
distributed by means of the ribs, it also very often 
happens that it runs along the metal parts of the 
handle to whatever pieces of metal may be on the 
person, finally striking the soil through the human 

On July 13, 1884, in the province of Liege, a man 
and a woman sheltering under the same umbrella were 
struck by lightning. The man was killed instantly. 
His garments were in tatters, and the soles torn from 
his shoes. His pipe was thrown twenty yards away, 
as well as the artificial flowers in his companion's hat. 
The latter, who was carrying the umbrella, was 

At a season when, as a rule, thunder is not dreaded 
December 9, 1884, to wit two men, who were 
walking on either side of a schoolboy holding an 
umbrella, were killed by lightning. The child was 
merely thrown down, and got off with a few trifling 

In each of these cases, the person who carried the 
umbrella suffered less from the electric discharge, but 
did not escape altogether, nevertheless. It may be 
remarked, also, that the chief victims were just under 
the points of the frame, and that in all probability the 
electricity passed through these points. 

The fusion of metals is one of the lightning's most 


ordinary performances ; it has occurred at times in 
considerable quantities. 

On April 2, 1807, a fulminant discharge struck 
the windmill at Great Marton, in Lancashire. A 
thick iron chain, used for hoisting up the corn, must 
have been, if not actually melted, at any rate con- 
siderably softened. Indeed, the links were dragged 
downwards by the weight of the lower part, and meet- 
ing, became soldered in such a way that, after the 
stroke of lightning, the chain was a veritable bar 
of iron. 

How, one asks, can this truly formidable fusion 
take place during the swift passage of the electric 
spark, which disappears, it may well be said, " with 
lightning speed." 

What magic force gives the fiery bolt from the 
sky the power to transform the atmosphere into a 
veritable forge, in which kilos of metal are melted in 
the thousandth part of a second ! 

Great leaden pipes melt like a lump of sugar in 
a glass of water, letting the contents escape. 

In Paris, June 19, 1903, lightning broke tempestu- 
ously into a kitchen, and, melting the gaspipes, set 
fire to the place. 

On another occasion, the meteor breaking into the 
workshop of a locksmith, files and other tools hanging 
from a rack on the wall were soldered to the nails 


with which the iron ferrules of their handles came in 
contact, and were with difficulty pulled apart. 

A house at Dorking, Sussex, received a visit from 
lightning on July 16, 1750. Nails, bolts, and divers 
small objects were soldered together in groups of six, 
seven, eight, or ten, just as if they had been thrown 
into a crucible. 

"Money melts, leaving the purse uninjured," says 
Seneca. " The sword-blade liquifies, while the scabbard 
remains intact. The iron in the javelin runs down the 
handle, which is none the worse." 

We could add other examples, quite as unheard of, 
as those enumerated by the preceptor of Nero. 

A hat- wire melted into nothing, though the paper 
in which it was wrapped was not burnt. 

Knives and forks were melted without the least 
injury being done to the linen which enveloped them, 
by the presence of the fluid. 

These proceedings give proof of exquisitely delicate 
feelings ; it is a pity the lightning does not always 
behave in the same way. 

Wires, and particularly bell- wires, make the most 
agreeable playthings for the lightning, judging from 
the frequency with which they are struck. 

Sometimes, in the middle of a fearful thunderstorm, 
the doorbell is violently rung; the porter rushes to 
open the door for the impatient visitor, only to receive 


a shock of lightning by way of salvo. The mysterious 
hand which pulled the bell is already far away ; but 
it has left its impress on the bell, and the guiding 
ray follows the metal wire in all its windings, passing 
through holes no bigger than the head of a pin. The 
wires are often melted into globules, and scattered 
around in all directions. 

The Abbe Richard has seen globules from a bell- 
wire fall into coffee cups, and become embedded in the 
porcelain, without the latter being any the worse. 

Metal wires supporting espaliers and vines are often 
compromising to the safety of their neighbourhood, 
especially when they are against a house. 

Without renouncing the succulent peach, or the 
golden chasselas grapes, propped on espaliers, we ought 
to see that they are so arranged that they do not act 
as lightning-conductors to our habitation. 

In August, 1868, in a farm amongst the mountains 
near Lyons, lightning fell at a distance of about fifteen 
metres from a dwelling where there were four people ; 
the meteor, conducted by the wire supporting a vine 
on a trellis, followed it into the house, and knocked 
the four people down. 

One could almost believe that lightning takes a 
certain pleasure in looking at its diaphanous and 
fugitive form in the mirrors hung as ornaments in 
our drawing-rooms. 


In 1889, a very coquettish flash of lightning rushed 
to a mirror, breaking more than ten openings in the 
gilt frame. Then it evaporated the gilding, spreading 
it over the surface of the glass, while on the silvered 
back the evaporation of this latter metal produced the 
most beautiful electric traceries. 

Sometimes the tinfoil or pieces of melted glass are 
thrown to a great distance; and at times the fusion 
of the glass is so complete that the debris hangs down 
like little stalactites. 

As for the gilding of the frames, it is often care- 
fully removed by the lightning to a distance, and 
applied to the gilding of objects which were never 
intended to receive this style of decoration. 

It is just the same with the gilding on clocks, 
cornices, church ornaments, etc. 

There are innumerable examples coming under this 
category. Here are a few : 

On March 15, at Naples, lightning flashed through 
the rooms of Lord Tylney, who was holding a reception 
that evening. More than five hundred were present; 
without any person being injured, the lightning took 
the gilding clean off cornices, curtain-poles, couches, 
and door-posts ; then it shook its booty in a fine gold 
dust over the guests and the floor. 

On June 4, 1797, lightning struck the steeple 
of Philippshofen in Bohemia, and went off with the 


gold of the clock, to gild the lead in the chapel 

In 1761, it went into the church of the Academical 
College in Vienna, and took the gold from the cornice 
of one of the altar pillars to put it on a silver vase. 

It seems difficult for lightning to resist the attrac- 
tion of gildings. It was reported that when a house in 
the Eue Plumet in Paris was struck in 1767, among 
several frames hanging in a room, the spark only 
touched one which was gilt. None of the others were 

In spite of this extraordinarily independent be- 
haviour, lightning has not so much liberty of action as 
we might be tempted to believe ; it obeys certain laws 
which are not yet defined, and its gestures, although 
apparently wild and capricious, are not the result of 
fortuitous circumstances. To allude to it as chance 
may serve as a refuge from ignorance, but it does not, 
any more than we can, explain the extraordinary 

Why are certain organic or non-organic bodies 
visited repeatedly by lightning? We need not have 
recourse to magic to explain. 

It is simply because they serve as favourable con- 
ductors for the fluid. One of the best-known examples 
of this kind is that of the church of Antrasme. It was 
struck by lightning in 1752. It melted the gold of the 


picture frames adorning the sanctuary, blackened the 
edges of the niches in which the images stood, scorched 
the pewter vases enclosed in a press in the sacristy ; 
then, lastly, it made two very neat holes at the end of 
a side chapel, by which it took its departure. The 
traces of this disaster were removed with all haste, but 
twelve years later, on June 20, 1764, the lightning 
returned to the charge. It penetrated the church for 
the second time, but the most remarkable fact is, that 
it worked havoc similar to that done on its first visit. 
Again the sacred picture-frames were despoiled of their 
gilding, the niches of the saints blackened, the pewter 
vases scorched, and the two holes in the chapel re- 
opened. What demon guided the lightning in these 
scenes of pillage ? The end of the story gives us 
the clue. Soon after the catastrophe the use of the 
lightning-conductor became general throughout the 
whole world. The church was put under the protec- 
tion of a rod of iron, after the principles of Franklin, 
and ever since lightning allows the faithful to pray 
in peace within the sanctuary, and has never returned 
to profane the church at Antrasme. 

Such incidents are of fairly frequent occurrence ; 
they give us a chance of understanding the supposed 
preferences of lightning. 

In the last chapter we shall see curious cases of 
" galvanoplasty," of the nature of the following: 


amongst others, that of a piece of gold in a purse, 
which was silvered over with silver taken out of another 
part of the purse, through the leather of the com- 

What a trick of prestidigitation ! On our music- 
hall stages this turn would have a great success. 

But our last word has not been said about lightning. 
Just a few more. 

One of the most curious effects produced on metals, 
is the magnetic polarity communicated to objects in 
steel and iron, no matter what they be. We have 
already quoted a remarkable case, that of the ascending 

A tailor was slightly touched by the spark ; the day 
after the accident he found his needles were magnetized : 
they clung closely to each other as they were taken out 
of the case. 

Another case of magnetization has been recorded, 
where certain objects, which were struck by lightning, 
had power to raise three times their own weight. 

This magnetization is almost always temporary. 
Examples are known, however, where objects preserved 
the magnetic powers that they acquired in the moment 
of the shock. And one can understand the terror 
inspired by lightning in uncultured minds, when, after 
the passing of the meteor, they see common things 
suddenly animated by a fantastic vitality, fine needles 


attract and raise very much larger bodies than them- 
selves, and impart a feverish agitation to any pieces of 
steel or iron that may be placed near them. 

What a lively impression these curious phenomena 
must have made on the minds of men in the days when 
sorcery was in fashion, and when lightning was, accord- 
ing to the belief then popular, at the service of heaven 
and hell ! But, nowadays, sorcery is fallen into disuse ; 
the magnetization of metal bodies, even when the 
result of lightning, is something too well known to be 
attributed to any connection with Satan. 

And yet the gambols of electricity are truly extra- 

In the month of June, 1873, the electric fluid 
penetrated into a butcher's shop, quite calmly followed 
the iron bars from which the quarters of meat were 
hanging. From one of the hooks a whole ox was 
suspended. All at once the skinned carcase was gal- 
vanized by the electric current, and during several 
instants it was seen convulsed by the most frightful 

Again, on June 28, 1879, a concierge in the Avenue 
de Clichy was sweeping his courtyard when the light- 
ning broke at one metre above his head. The poor 
man escaped with the fright. The fluid ran up the 
leaden pipes and entered a room, where it broke the 
mirrors and a clock, injured the ceiling, and got off by 


breaking the panes in the window. On the upper 
storey it got into a lodging occupied by two old women, 
where it caused the following damage : one of the 
women was holding a bowl of milk, the bottom of the 
bowl was cracked and the milk spilled on the floor ; 
some money which was in a wooden bowl disappeared 
and could not be found. The clock was stopped at 
half-past six, the pendulum unhooked; and a hole 
made in a glass globe the size of a five-shilling piece. 
Finally, a woman in bed on the same landing saw 
the bed split in two by the lightning, which dis- 
appeared in the wall. None of these persons were 
inj ured. 

As a general rule, indeed, when lightning breaks 
into houses, although it often does a great deal of 
harm, it almost always spares the people who may be 
there. One is safer there than anywhere else. 

Sometimes the walls are pierced or merely hollowed. 
This perforation of the walls is one of the most common 
effects of the meteor on buildings. 

The thickness of the perforated walls is very 

At the Castle of Clermont, in Beauvaisis, there was 
a formidable old wall, built in the time of the Romans, 
so tradition has it, which was ten feet thick, and the 
cement was as hard as stone, so that it was almost 
impossible to break it. "One day,"" says Nollet, "a 


flash of lightning struck it, and instantly a hole, two 
feet deep and equally wide, was made in it, the debris 
being thrown more than fifty feet away."" 

On June 17, 1883, at Louvemont (Haute-Marne), 
the wall of a bakehouse, fifty-five centimetres wide, 
was broken in by lightning. 

The church at Lugdivan was struck by lightning in 
1761. Two furrows like those made by a plough were 
to be seen on the wall. 

One of the most dreadful acts of which lightning is 
capable is that of hurling considerable masses of stone 
and rock, broken or intact, to great distances. We 
have numerous examples of this terrible phenomenon. 
Here are a few : 

On August 23, 1853, thunder burst over the belfry 
of Maison-Ponthieu. The explosion scattered the 
slates and beams of the roof, and shot a stone, 
measuring thirty-five centimetres, to a distance of 
twenty metres. Rough stones, weighing more than 
forty pounds, were torn up and thrown almost horizon- 
tally as far as an opposite wall thirty feet away. 

At Fuzie-en-Fetlar, in Scotland, towards the end of 
the eighteenth century, lightning broke, in about two 
seconds at most, a mica-schist rock of one hundred and 
fifty feet long, by ten broad, and in some parts four feet 
thick ; this it split into great pieces. One, measuring 
twenty-six feet long by ten broad, and four in thickness, 


fell on the ground twenty centimetres off. Enormous 
stones are thrown, at times, in different directions. 

In 1762 lightning struck the belfry of Breag Church 
in Cornwall, broke the stone pinnacle of the edifice, and 
threw one of the stones, weighing at least a hundred- 
weight and a half, on the roof of the apsis, in a 
southerly direction, fifty-five metres away. 

In a northerly direction another huge stone was 
found at 365 metres or so from the belfry ; and a third, 
still larger, to the south-east of the church. 

In certain cases the lightning unites a fantastic skill 
with this excessive brutality. For instance, a wall has 
been removed intact without being broken in any part. 
Here is a record of one such extraordinary occurrence : 

On August 6, 1809, at Swinton, near Manchester, 
during a deluge of rain, the lightning all at once filled 
a brick building, in which coal was stored, full of 
pestilential, sulphureous vapour. Above it was a 
cistern half full. Suddenly the edifice, the walls of 
which measured thirty centimetres in thickness, were 
torn out of the ground, the foundations being sixty 
centimetres deep, and was transported in an upright 
position to a distance of ten metres. 

The weight of this mass, so oddly and so rapidly 
moved by lightning, was estimated at ten thousand 

In many cases, on the contrary, the subtle fluid has 


pulverized a hard stone on the spot and reduced it to 

Tiles and slates are very often torn off the roofs : 
the lightning makes them fly through the air. Some- 
times it is content to perforate them with a multitude 
of little holes. 

As for chimneys, they are generally very ill-treated 
by the meteor. The blows of which they are victims 
are to be accounted for easily, for they offer perfect 
powers of conducting to the fulminant matter, firstly, 
because of their prominence on the summit of the 
building, especially when they are surmounted by a 
vane. Again, the flue is often in cast-iron, and if it is 
bricked it is supported by bars of iron. The surface 
of the interior is covered with a layer of soot, an 
excellent conductor, and a stove-pipe often opens into 
it. Then, too, the hearth and its surroundings are 
more or less made of metal. Finally, the column of 
smoke and of hot, damp air rising into the air, shows 
the lightning the way. 

The latter often accepts this invitation, and very 
frequently gets into a house by the chimney, where 
everything seems ready for its reception. 

Rafters and doors are sometimes bored through with 
one or two holes by the spark, and split or furrowed 
more or less deeply. A curious fact is that it is rare 
to find the slightest trace of combustion round them. 



In the month of August, 1887, lightning struck the 
belfry of the church at Abrest (Allier), carrying oft' 
part of the roof. 

It destroyed the walls of the porch, and in both 
sides of the swing doors bored two holes, each as big as 
a pigeon's egg, and as symmetrically as if they had 
been made by the hand of man. 

The cleavage of beams is amongst the most extra- 
ordinary injuries to be observed on woodwork. Light- 
ning works with wrought wood just as it does when the 
tree is in full sap : it reduces it to rags, and follows the 
direction of the fibres. 

With what crimes lightning is charged ! When it is a 
question of robbing a house, it spares nothing in its way. 

The window-panes fly in pieces, and sometimes are 
thrown a long way off. Often they are melted and 
disappear totally. 

In July, 1783, at Campo Sampiero Castello (Padua), 
lightning struck a building full of hay ; the windows 
had glass in them, and the panes were melted without 
the hay catching Jire ! 

A still more astonishing phenomenon is that of the 
total disappearance of the glass panes, observed at the 
Castle of Upsal, on August 24, 1760. Lightning visited 
this edifice and then took flight, carrying off sixteen 
panes out of a window. Not the smallest fragment of 
them was ever found. 


Perhaps, as often happens, terrific heat was 
generated, and the glass evaporated. 

If we follow the track of lightning through rooms, 
very singular effects may be seen on the furniture. 
Chests of drawers and wardrobes are gutted, and the 
contents pulled out and strewn about the room. In 
the middle of August, 1887, a house at Francines, near 
Limoges, was struck by lightning. It fell in a room 
where the master of the house was in bed. He felt a 
terrific shock, and saw his eiderdown pierced through 
and through by the perfidious fluid, and a chest of 
drawers with all its contents broken. Continuing on 
its way, the lightning demolished the door and entered 
another room. 

A man who was asleep in it was killed. His wife 
by his side and his little girl felt nothing, but a pillow 
on which one of them had her head was thrown to a 
distance. Finally, the meteor went through the floor, 
broke a large clock on the ground floor, setting fire to 
everything on its way. 

On June 1, 1903, a fulminant ray fell on the 
church of Cussy-la-Colonne (Cote d'Or). To start, it 
turned the clock tower upside down, broke a clock, 
then opened a cupboard in the sacristy in which there 
were various articles, and broke them all. 

In April, 1886, lightning did great damage in 
the church at Montredon (Tarn). It demolished the 


steeple to an extent of three metres, several bells, and 
carried the enormous iron bar which supported them a 
long way off. The roof of the church was burst in and 
the tiles were pulverized in several places by the falling 
masonry. In the interior a bench was broken, an 
image of Christ reduced to powder, and a metal image 
of St. Peter twisted. 

We may remark, by the way, that churches are 
very often struck by lightning, doubtless owing to the 
height of the steeple above the edifice. 

We have innumerable notes about ruined steeples, 
turrets knocked off, the plundering of priestly objects. 
Sculptures and pictures adorning the sanctuary are 
often destroyed, and the altar itself shattered. Cases 
of priests struck while officiating are not uncommon. 
As for the faithful killed while at church, they may be 
counted by the hundred. 

Without wishing to call lightning a miscreant or 
an infidel, one is obliged to confess it fails in respect 
for holy places. 

However, the quips and cranks of lightning observed 
in dwellings are no less varied and curious. 

Here are some remarkable accounts : 

One night during a terrible thunderstorm, light- 
ning came down the chimney of a room where two 
people were asleep. The husband awoke with a start 
and, believing the house to be on fire, groped his way 


to the mantelpiece to get a candle, but was stopped by 
a heap of rubbish. Everything, in fact, of which the 
chimney had once consisted was heaped up in the 
middle of the room. The mantelshelf, violently torn 
off, had been partly melted, the clock had had the door 
of the case pulled off, and all the window-panes were 
broken. On the lower storey, another clock was similarly 
demolished, the floor was torn up and the tiles thrown 
with such force against the ceiling that there were 
splinters sticking all over it. 

In the month of April, 1866, at Bure (Luxembourg), 
the thunder, which had been rumbling for some time, 
suddenly crashed down all at once about midnight with 
the most appalling violence, so that the ground seemed 
to tremble and the houses rock on their foundations. 

All the inhabitants, aroused in terror ; instinctively 
several of them sprang out of bed, thinking that their 
dwellings must be annihilated. Every one had the 
presentiment of disaster, which was only too real : the 
fluid had just struck the house of a poor workman, and 
left a scene of frightful destruction behind it. 

The roof had been carried off, the chimney de- 
stroyed, the windows reduced, so to speak, to atoms, 
the principal door smashed and hurled to a distance ; 
of the furniture there was nothing left but shapeless 
wreckage. But what was most extraordinary is, that 
this catastrophe only cost the life of one person, while 


all that were in the house might well have been 

Three children, sleeping in an upper storey, found 
themselves thrown outside the house without knowing 
how they got there, but safe and sound, though the 
bed was broken to pieces. The father and mother 
were asleep on the ground floor, with two little 
children, one of whom was at the breast. This latter 
was flung out of his cradle and thrown against the 
wall, without being hurt. 

At this moment the mother sprang out of bed to 
succour those dear to her, but while the poor woman 
was in the act of lighting a candle, the lightning struck 
her lifeless on the floor. The husband, who was in the 
bed with another child, only felt a severe shaking. The 
lightning, having accomplished its work of destruction, 
finally broke an opening in the lower part of the wall, 
went into the stable adjoining the house, and there 
killed the only cow that was in it. 

In the month of August, 1868, at Liege, Rue du 
Calvaire, at the point where the mountain of St. 
Laurent is highest, lightning first of all struck two 
earthenware chimney-pots which were higher than the 
roofs. One of these pots was thrown to the ground 
and broken, the other disappeared. Then the electric 
spark ripped off a great part of the roof. All the tiles 
were scattered round the house. A young servant 


slept in a garret under the roof; the lightning pene- 
trated into the garret through a little hole in the wall 
just above the head of the maid's bed; the latter was 
flung into the middle of the room without the slightest 
bruise, though the wood of the bed was bored through 
in two places. 

From there, the spark going through the wall again, 
went down to the ground floor, following the gutter 
pipe, which it broke. It re-entered the house by making 
a little hole in the wall, pulled off the plaster which 
was round two nails holding up a mirror, broke part 
of the frame ; again left the room, entered a little room 
adjoining where six people were sleeping the father, 
the mother, and four young children ; pierced the wall 
to enter a locksmith's, scattered all the tools, tore out 
a drawer, broke it into a thousand pieces, and threw 
the contents on the floor, broke all the panes of glass ; 
again went through the wall, went to a hutch with a 
rabbit in it, killed the animal, and at last went into 
the garden, where it dug a double trench several feet 

The house was occupied by two families of ten 
persons, none of whom were struck. Terrified by the 
report they rose instantly ; the smell of smoke filling 
all the rooms told them of the danger they had just 

On another occasion one sees the woodwork of the 


chimney burnt, as well as a press, a looking-glass, and 
a clock badly injured by the lightning; which before 
retiring, and by way of being a good joke, turns a felt 
hat upside down, and unscrews the andirons. 

Examples of this kind are very numerous. We 
constantly speak of the caprices of the lightning, but 
what name could one give to anything so burlesque or 
incomprehensible as the following : 

In the month of July, 1896, lightning fell in the 
village of Boulens, on a cottage almost covered with 
thatch. Entering through the chimney, which it des- 
troyed, it first threw down a rack, pulling out the hinge 
which held it up, and making in the place of the said 
hinge a hole right through the wall. Afterwards it 
lifted a pot and the lid from the hearth over to the 
middle of the floor, tearing up some tiles as it went. 
It broke the latch of the hall door, as well as the key 
which was in the lock ; this latter was found afterwards 
in a wooden shoe which was under the sideboard. Two 
canes that were beside the mantelpiece, were laid on 
the said mantelpiece as if placed there by hand. 

A meat chopper and a copper basin used for ladling 
water out of a pail, and attached to either end of the 
stove, were likewise thrown into the middle of the 
room. But the oddest part was that these two articles 
were fastened together, the twine which served to hang 
up the chopper being rolled round the handle of the 


basin. Finally, the flash divided, and zigzagged off, one 
part carrying off a piece of the oak jamb of the hall 
door, the other part piercing a hole above the stove in 
a mud wall. Through this it threw fragments of laths 
and mortar into a window eleven metres off, near which 
two people were sleeping. 

This little dance, in which so many and various 
articles took part, does not lack piquancy ! 

This is how lightning joins in the National Fete 
of France ! 

On July 14, 1884, in the village of Tourettes 
(Vaucluse), lightning struck a house, carrying off a 
corner of the roof. It knocked off the lower part of 
the roof, and broke through a wall at least fifty centi- 
metres thick. 

In a press built half into the wall, and in which 
there were about fifteen bottles containing various 
kinds of liqueur, only one bottle of spirits was broken, 
and this was done in such a manner that no trace could 
ever be found either of the glass or the liquid. 

From thence it sprang to the pictures hanging 
above the head of a little girl of five, who was sound 
asleep. Three pictures were torn from their frames, 
engravings and mirrors were ground to powder, but 
the child was not hurt. Then the electric current 
made an opening in the ceiling, which was about forty- 
five centimetres thick, broke a great many tiles as it 


left the house, but soon returned by way of the chimney, 
three parts of which it demolished. Then it explored 
the kitchen on the ground floor, where there were three 
men by a fire. One, standing up, was thrown violently 
against the opposite wall; another was hurled against 
the door; the third, seated, was raised from his chair 
to a height of at least fifty centimetres, and then 
dropped. To crown all, the spark tore away half the 
butt-end of a gun, and carried it into the next room, 
where there were eleven people who got off with 
nothing worse than the fright. Then going up the 
chimney, it exploded at a height of 1'50 metre, throwing 
bits of plaster and of the pothanger in all directions. 

What frantic and almost childlike fury ! 

Yet somewhere else the very brother of this ray 
may caress the little head of a sleeping child, and not 
do it the slightest harm ; may scoop a hole in the little 
cot, and then depart quietly without giving any further 
cause for talk. Or this same lightning, terrible and 
ungovernable at times, will snatch something out of 
a person's hand with so much dexterity, one might 
almost say delicacy, that one would hardly dare to 
reproach him with his lack of ceremony. 

At Perpignan on August 31, 1895, lightning fell 
on the mountains of Nyer, near Olette. Twenty-five 
out of a flock of sheep were struck. The shepherd was 
enveloped by a flash, yet escaped, but the knife he was 


holding in his hand disappeared and likewise his 

Another time it fell on a house at Beaumont (Puy- 
de-Dome), flashed through every part of it, blew up the 
stone staircase, and did considerable damage. It grazed 
a woman who was sitting with a cup in her hand, but 
she was not hurt, though the cup was rudely torn out 
of her hands. 

In July, 1886, a labourer was in the act of mowing, 
when lightning coming on unawares, stole his scythe 
and threw it 10 metres away. The man was not in the 
least hurt. 

The following example is truly amazing from this 
point of view. 

A woman was busy milking a cow, when suddenly 
she saw a tongue of fire shoot into the stable and round 
it, pass between a cow and the wall at a place where 
there was not more than 30 or 35 centimetres of space, 
and finally go out of the door without leaving any 
marks, or hurting any living thing. 

Very often lightning contents itself with making a 
frightful hubbub, and breaking any china or glass it 
may come across. 

In July, 1886, thunder burst over a house at 
Langres. It was at breakfast-time. The fluid came 
down the chimney, which it swept thoroughly, came 
near the table, ran between the legs of an astounded 


guest, and then knocked a hole as big as a shilling 
in the neck of a bottle which was being filled at the 
pump. Then it took itself off to the courtyard, which 
it swept clean, and disappeared without hurting any 
of the witnesses of this strange phenomenon. 

On August 3, 1898, two women were in the dining- 
room of their house at Coufolens, when lightning broke 
a pane of glass in the window, and passing within a 
few metres of them, went through the kitchen, and dis- 
appeared through the wall, after having broken several 
cooking utensils and the mantelpiece into atoms. 

At Port-de-Bouc, on August 21, 1900, lightning 
struck the custom house, went into the room of one of 
the officials, and cut clean in two a china vase, which 
was on the mantelpiece, without separating the pieces. 

Several days later, on August 26, the mysterious 
fluid came to disturb the peaceful repast of two honest 
labourers. Having taken refuge from the storm in a 
hut, they had set out their provisions for breakfast. 
All at once the thunderstorm burst into the humble 
dining-room, snatched up the bread, cheese, etc., over- 
turned the bottles and other articles, covered everything 
with straw, as if by a violent gust of wind. The 
labourers felt nothing but stupefaction. 

Was not it a veritable farce ? 

In another place it bursts open a cupboard, throw- 
ing the door away, and damaging the crockery in the 


most systematic fashion : it breaks the first plate, leaves 
the second intact, cracks the next, spares the fourth, 
and so on to the bottom of the pile. Then its task 
finished, it becomes quite diminutive, like some little 
gnome out of a fairy story, and flees through the key- 
hole, but without making the key spring out of the 

On August 19, 1866, at Chaumont, lightning, having 
played havoc in a house in various ways, espied a pile 
of plates in a cupboard, china and earthenware plates 
being mixed, it broke all the china ones, leaving the 
others untouched. 

Why this preference ? The lightning does not 
explain. It is for us to find out. 

On May 31, 1903, at Tillieu-sous-Aire (Eure), 
during a thunderstorm, a number of china plates were 
filled with a kind of sticky water. The earthenware 
plates beside them were not even wet. I received a 
little flask of this water sent me by the parish priest, 
but analysis revealed nothing unusual. 

The following case gives a formal denial to the 
ancient prejudice which attributes a cabalistic influence 
to the number thirteen. 

There were thirteen people in the dining-room of a 
house at Langonar while the thunder rumbled outside. 
Suddenly a flash of lightning struck a plate in the 
middle of the table, threw dishes, glasses, plates, knives, 


and forks in all directions in a word, cleared the table, 
not forgetting the tablecloth. 

None of the thirteen guests were touched. 

It sometimes happens, indeed, that glasses or bottles 
are altogether or partly melted. Boyle gives a very 
curious instance of the kind. 

Two large drinking glasses were side by side on a 
table. They were exactly alike. Lightning seemed to 
pass between them, yet neither was broken ; one was 
slightly distorted, however, and the other so much bent 
by an instantaneous softening that it could hardly stand. 

When firearms are struck by lightning, their in- 
juries are often of the most varied kind. Sometimes 
the wood, particularly of the butt-end, is split, or 
broken to pieces, the metal parts torn out, or thrown 
right away. 

On July 27, 1721, the meteor struck a sentry-box 
at Fort Nicolai, Breslau, and pierced the top to get 
at the sentry and his gun. The barrel was blackened ; 
the butt-end broken and thrown to a distance. The 
shot had been discharged and pierced the roof of the 

The man got off with a few scratches. 

However, firearms when carried by men appear to 
attract the lightning. Soldiers are often enough struck 
when in the exercise of their calling, when they are 
carrying arms. 


But, curiously enough, many cases are known in 
which lightning has struck a loaded gun, melting the 
bullet and part of the barrel, without setting fire to 
the powder. 

Thus, at Prefling, lightning penetrated the room 
of a gamekeeper, yet none of the many firearms 
hanging up went off. The wall was damaged between 
each rifle. One was standing in a corner of the room ; 
the wall was injured on a level with the lower end, and 
above it a hole was to be seen in the woodwork. 

On June 1, 1761, near Nimburg, lightning burst 
into the house of a horse-keeper, where it struck a 
loaded carbine leaning against a wall on the ground 
floor. The muzzle was slightly melted by the spark, 
which ran along the barrel to the trigger, and which 
it soldered together in parts. There were five bullets 
melted and soldered together in the magazine and the 
wads much scorched. However, incredible as it may 
seem, there was no explosion. 

In another case the lightning went the whole length 
of a rifle, both inside and outside, leaving a direct line 
of fusion, and yet, incredible though it may seem, no 
shot was fired though the fusion reached the powder. 

These phenomena appear quite extraordinary, and 
altogether incompatible with the usual theory of the 
combustibleness of gunpowder. To what cause can the 
invulnerability of the explosive matter be due ? 


Doubtless to the quickness of the lightning, which 
does not leave the powder time enough to ignite. 

Powder magazines are frequently struck by light- 
ning, and this subject is one of very great interest; they 
are not always blown up, in spite of the vast quantities 
of explosive materials which they contain. 

Here are some examples which go to prove this 
statement : 

On November 5, 1755, lightning fell near Rouen 
on the Maromme powder magazine, and split one of 
the beams of the roof. Two barrels of powder were 
reduced to atoms without exploding. The magazine 
contained eight hundred of these barrels. 

Can it be that man's thunder can repulse that of 
Jupiter ? 

Not always, as numerous examples prove the con- 
trary. The following observations are extracted from 
a collection of similar facts : 

Lightning struck the tower of St. Nazaire, Brecia, 
on August 18, 1769. It stood above an underground 
magazine containing a million kilogrammes of powder 
belonging to the Republic of Venice. The whole 
edifice was blown up, the stones falling in showers. 
Part of the town was thrown down ; three thousand 
people perishing. 

At four o'clock in the afternoon of October 6, 
1856, lightning penetrated the vaults of the church 


of St. Jean, at Rhodes, setting fire to an enormous 
quantity of powder. Four or five thousand people 
lost their lives in the catastrophe. 

The power of lightning is immeasurable. Well, it 
sometimes enjoys itself after the following manner : 

In 1899 it lit a candle which had just been put 
out. The person who held it was not struck, but the 
shock sent him to sleep for four days ; then he awoke, 
only to go mad, and then slept for seven consecutive 

At Harbourg it put out all the lights at a ball ; 
the room was plunged in darkness, and filled with thick 
and fetid vapour. 

Many a time, too, has a fire, burning brightly in 
a grate, been suddenly extinguished by lightning ; and 
the same thing has happened with pottery and tile- 
making furnaces. As a rule, it is extremely difficult to 
re-light candles or fires thus extinguished. In some 
instances it takes on itself to light the gas. 

On August 3, 1876, near the Observatory in 
Pans, Rue Leclerc, towards the corner of the Boule- 
vard Saint Jacques, a gas jet was lit by lightning. 
The latter was twenty centimetres from a long gutter, 
and was in the gap, so to speak, of an electric circuit 
formed by it and the damp wall communicating with 
the ground. A violent explosion took place at the 
moment the gas caught alight, the gas meter, on the 


wall two metres above it, was dislodged, when a second 
explosion was heard. The thunder-clap was truly 
terrific, and immediately followed the lightning flash. 
The chronometer in the meteorological bureau in the 
Observatory was stopped suddenly. The keeper of 
the square of the Luxembourg saw a ball of red fire 
explode with great violence, and scatter in all directions. 
The plate belonging to the Peres was, according to 
M. de Fonvielle, broken to a thousand pieces, and the 
outer part of an iron bar was volatilized. There were 
no deaths or injuries to record, although several people 
were thrown down by the shock. 

Sometimes great disasters are indirectly caused by 
lightning. Thus in July, 1903, it set fire to an old 
house at Muda, Paluzzo. Under other circumstances, 
the accident might have been insignificant. But, 
fanned by a violent wind, the flames increased, and, 
approaching nearer and nearer, burned a hundred 
houses, or in other words, the whole village. 

A similar catastrophe took place at the village of 
Ochres, in Dauphine, on August 27, 1900. Lightning 
set fire to twenty thatched cottages/ which, out of 
thirty-two composing the village, were in ashes within 
less than an hour. Three persons were burnt alive, 
and four others seriously injured. 

On August 25, 1881, lightning struck the village 
of Saint Innocent, at three o'clock in the morning. 


Seven houses were totally burnt, and three women 
perished in the flames. 

A fire caused by lightning burst out on June 24, 
1872, at Perrigny, near Pontailler (Cote d'Or). Seven- 
teen houses were burnt, and seventy-eight people found 
themselves homeless. Sometimes these disasters attain 
terrifying proportions. 

During an awful thunderstorm, the electric spark 
set fire to eighteen parishes in Belgium ; ruin spread 
over an area of 160 kilometres. 

But could anything be more dreadful than the fate 
of certain ships that have been struck by lightning ? 

Here is the case of one which was literally cut in 

On August 3, 1862, the ship Moses, on her passage 
from Ibraila to Queenstown, was overtaken in sight of 
Malta by a violent thunderstorm. Towards midnight 
lightning struck the mainmast, and then downwards 
along it to the hold, cutting the vessel in two. She 
filled immediately. Crew and passengers were lost. 
Captain Pearson was on the bridge, and had just 
time to catch a floating spar, which supported him 
during seventeen hours. The ship sank in three 

At the commencement of last century, the ship Royal 
Charlotte being in Diamond Harbour, on the Hoogley, 
was struck by lightning and blown into a thousand 


pieces, through the explosion of her powder magazine. 
The report was heard a great distance off, and the 
shock was felt for miles around. 

The form and position of the masts exposes them 
particularly to the attacks of the dread meteor. Several 
examples are known of sailors being struck by the 
electric current while aloft in the rigging, and even 
being thrown from there into the sea. 

On August 26, 1900, the steamer Numidie, sailing 
from Bone, was struck by lightning. The fluid fell on 
the mizzen-mast, and went down the standing jib, 
to which the second officer was clinging. The un- 
fortunate man had had both his hands paralyzed and 
fallen ; but if he had fallen on the outside of the 
draille, death would have been inevitable. 

The Rodney was under weigh before Syracuse when 
it was struck. This was on December 7, 1838. The 
top-gallant-mast went first ; it weighed eight hundred 
pounds, and such was the violence of the stroke that it 
was instantly reduced to shavings, which hung the 
whole length of the vessel, like rubbish in a carpenter's 
shop. The topmast was very much damaged and 
shattered here and there. As for the mainmast, with 
its ironwork weighing more than a ton, it was wrecked 
for a length of some seventeen metres. 

At times the masts are split from top to bottom, 
broken or cut transversely in fragments, and flung to a 


distance. Sometimes they are planed, like the beams 
and trees of which we have already spoken. 

The Blake was struck by lightning in 1812. The 
top-gallant-mast was in green pine, which was split into 
long fibres in every direction, like branches of a tree. 

It is not unusual for lightning to creep into the 
heart of a mast and do it all kinds of injuries, 
without in any way hurting the outside; in a word, 
there may be single or double furrows, longitudinal or 
zigzag, sometimes curved, and of varying depth. Some- 
times also, the electric current, far more powerful than 
the blast of the wind, seizes the rigging and carries it 
off. This phenomenon was observed on the Clenker, 
December 31, 1828 ; the topmast and sails were torn 
off and thrown into the water. Neither are the sails 
spared by the terrible meteor ; they are torn, riddled 
with holes, or set on fire. But as a rule the yards are 

One of the most frightful effects of thunder on 
ships is fire, which it drives from one part of the vessel 
to another. Under ordinary circumstances it is usually 
local, and easily extinguished; but when it seizes on 
various parts of the ship at once, as when struck by 
lightning, then destruction becomes inevitable. 

In 1793 the King George from Bombay was sailing 
up the river at Canton, when an electric spark, followed 
by a violent clap of thnnder, grazed the mizzen-mast, 


and disappeared in the hold, after killing seven men. 
Seven hours later it was discovered with consternation 
that the hold, full of an inflammable cargo, was on 
fire. It spread rapidly over the whole ship, which it 
burned to the water's edge. 

The ship Bayfield from Liverpool was struck by 
lightning November 25, 1845. Instantly the deck was 
seen covered with globes of fire and large sparks, which 
set fire to the vessel. As it threatened the powder- 
magazine, the captain decided to abandon the ship. 
A rush was made for the boats, but as only thirty 
pounds of bread could be saved, many perished of 
hunger and thirst. 

Often, indeed, the explosion of the powder-magazine 
makes the catastrophe even more terrible. Thus, in 
1798, the English vessel the Resistance, was blown up 
in the Straits of Malacca. Only two or three of the 
crew were saved. 

But lightning plays more tricks with the compass 
than with anything else when it visits a ship. The 
vibrating, quivering, magnetic needle is often paralyzed 
by the electric current ; sometimes its poles are re- 
versed, or the points, disturbed by the passage of the 
spark, deviate, and no longer responding to the magnetic 
pole, mislead and move hither and thither. 

Sometimes they even lose all their magnetic pro- 


These changes in the compass often lead to disastrous 
consequences. Many cases are known of ships being 
steered to destruction through the deviation of the 
compass. Arago tells of a Genoese ship which, about 
the year 1808, sailing for Marseilles, was struck a little 
way off Algiers. The needles of the compasses all 
made half a revolution, although the instruments did 
not appear to be injured, and the vessel was wrecked 
on the coast when the pilot believed he could round 
the cape to the north. This may account for the total 
disappearance of certain ships. 

Some ships, like certain individuals and certain 
trees, appear in particular to attract the electric fluid. 
We have many records of vessels struck several times 
in the course of a single electric storm. Here are 
a few : 

On August 1, 1750, the Malacca was struck re- 

In 1848, the Competitor was struck twice within an 

At the beginning of December, 1770, between 
Mahon and Malta, the ship of a Russian admiral was 
struck three times in a single night. 

On January 5, 1830, in the Straits of Corfu, the 
Madagascar received five destructive discharges in two 

We could add many others to this list. But 


enough. And yet we have not said the last word on 
the subject. We have to discuss the interchange of 
sympathetic currents, and those which are the reverse, 
taking place between the electricity of the skies and 
that of the telegraph. 

Lightning often comes incognito to visit the earth's 
surface, or even the depths of the ocean. These little 
excursions to our terrestrial dominions usually pass 
unperceived ; however, in certain cases the telegraph 
wires commit the indiscretion of revealing them. 

On the other hand, we know that the wires en- 
trusted with carrying our thoughts round the world, 
are almost inconceivably sensitive. Without being con- 
scious of the fact, they are in correspondence with 
the sun, 149 millions of kilometres away, and any 
agitation on the surface of this luminary may cause 
them indescribable agitation, as we witnessed at the 
close of the year 1903. 

During the formidable magnetic tempest of the 
31st October, telegraphic and telephonic communica- 
tion were interrupted in many parts of the world. 
In fact, the phenomenon was observed all over the 
surface of the globe. From nine o'clock in the morn- 
ing, till four in the afternoon, the old world and the 
new were strangers to one another. Not a word nor 
a thought crossed the ocean; the submarine cables 
were paralyzed on account of solar disturbances. In 


France, communication between the principal towns 
and the frontiers was interrupted During this time 
the sun was in a condition of violent agitation, and 
its surface vibrated with intense heat. In such times 
the subtle fluid profits by the confusion to glide noise- 
lessly along the paths which are open to it. But he 
does not always wait for these favourable opportunities. 

Let a thunder-cloud pass over the telegraph wires, 
either noiselessly or hurling petards in all directions, 
the line will be affected. The fluid imprisoned in the 
sky will act by induction on the electricity of the wires 
which will result in the vibration of the latter, ac- 
companied sometimes by a flash of lightning. These 
phenomena may cause grave accidents to the telegraph 
clerks, unless they are on their guard against the 
treachery of the lightning. These mute discharges 
happen frequently, but the spark strikes the telegraph 
wires often, too, as well as the apparatus in the office. 
All sorts of accidents result from these repeated 

We know, for instance, how the birds fall victims 
to the lightning when they alight on the telegraph 
wires after a thunderstorm ; they are often found dead 
hanging by their claws. 

But the fluid acts on man also, through the medium 
of the wires. 

Thus, on April 13, 1863, a telegraph clerk was 


engaged with several other employees repairing some 
telegraph wires in the station at Pontarlier, when 
all at once they felt, at the knee-joints more particu- 
larly, a violent shock which made them bend their 
legs as if they had been struck with a stick ; one of 
them was even thrown down. No doubt the fluid 
reached the wires, which in those remote parts was in 
charge of the clerks. 

On September 8, 1848, during a violent thunder- 
storm, two telegraph poles were thrown down at 
Zara in Dalmatia. Two hours later, as they were 
being set up again, a couple of artillerymen, having 
seized the wire, felt slight electric shocks, then suddenly 
found themselves flat on the ground. Both had their 
hands burnt ; one indeed, gave no sign of life ; the 
other, in trying to raise himself up, fell back as soon 
as his arm came in contact with that of one of his 
comrades, who ran to his assistance on hearing him cry 
for help. The latter thrown down in turn, felt his 
nerves tingle, and giddiness seize him, with singing 
in his ears. When his arm was uncovered, there 
was a superficial burn just on the spot where he had 
been touched. 

On May 9, 1867, lightning fell on the road 
from Bastogne to Houffalize (Luxembourg), attracted 
by the telegraph wire, which it destroyed for about 
a kilometre. At a certain part, and over a length 


of about twenty metres, the wire was cut in small 
pieces, three or four centimetres long, which were 
scattered over the ground, and were as black and as 
fragile as charcoal. The poles which supported them, 
and several poplars planted on the same side of the 
road, were more or less damaged. 

It has been observed that trees planted on the same 
side as a telegraph line were sometimes blasted on a 
level with the wires. It is the same with houses 
near the copper threads along which human thoughts 
take wing. Thus, at Chateauneuf-Martignes, on 
August 25, 1900, lightning destroyed the telegraph 
poles on the outskirts of the railway-station. A severe 
shock, like an electrical discharge, was felt at the same 
moment by two people who were in bed, not far from 
where the wire was fixed in the wall of the house, 
which was a very low one. The same phenomenon 
had been felt there already. 

In the railway-stations, as well as in the telegraph 
and telephone offices, curious results of the spark 
passing at a certain distance, or even in the immediate 
neighbourhood, are sometimes observed. 

On May 17, 1852, towards five o'clock, the 
sky looking overcast, the station-master at Havre 
warned his colleague at Beuzeville that it would be 
well to put his apparatus in connection with the 
ground. Beuzeville is twenty-five kilometres away 


from Havre, and at the former station the weather 
then did not look at all threatening. But clouds soon 
piled up, driven before a violent wind. Suddenly 
three awful peals of thunder succeeded each other in 
quick succession. With the last, lightning struck a 
farm about a kilometre from the station, and at the 
same moment a globe of fire of a reddish brown, and 
apparently about the size of a small bomb-shell, rose 
as if out of a clump of trees. It glided through the 
air like an aerolite, and leaving behind it a train of 
light. At a hundred metres or so from the station, 
it alighted like a bird on the telegraph wires, then 
disappeared with the rapidity of lightning, leaving 
no trace of its passage, either on the wires or the 
station. But at Beuzeville several interesting pheno- 
mena were observed. Firstly, the needles turned 
rapidly, with a grating noise like that of a turnspit 
suddenly running down, or like a grindstone sharpening 
iron, which emits sparks. A great number, indeed, 
flew out of the apparatus. One of the needles, that 
on the Rouen side, went out of order ; all the screws 
on that part of the instrument were unscrewed, and on 
the copper dial near the axis of the needle, there was 
a hole through which one could pass a grain of corn. 

The instruments at Havre were unaffected. The 
needle remained as usual, also the dial, screws, and 
so on. 


One of our correspondents has sent me the following 
very interesting communication : 

"On June 26, 1901, having rang up at the 
central telephone-office at St. Pierre, Martinique, a 
harsh noise was heard, which was almost immediately 
succeeded by the appearance of a ball of fire, having 
an apparent diameter of twenty centimetres, and the 
brilliancy of an electric light of twenty candle power. 
This, voluminous globe followed the telephone wire 
towards the instrument. Arrived near the receiver, 
it burst with a terrific explosion. The witness of this 
phenomenon felt a severe shock, and dizziness. Re- 
covered from his stupefaction, he noted the following- 
facts: the telephone apparatus was completely burnt, 
the relay of Morse's installation was slightly damaged. 
The electrical tension must have been enormous, 
for the wire of the bobbins was, to a great extent, 
melted.' 1 

This latter effect, however, occurs very frequently. 
Not only does the lightning melt and break the 
telegraph wires, but it injures the poles which support 

These are sometimes broken, split, thrown down, 
burst, or splintered, sometimes into threads or shavings. 
Poles which have been blasted are often to be seen 
alternating with others which are uninjured. Thus, 
on the line from Philadelphia to New York, during 


a great storm, every alternate pole up to eight was 
broken or thrown down ; the odd numbers were 
uninjured. We have mentioned a similar case already. 

There are several accounts, too, of lightning in 
pursuit of trains. 

On June 1, 1903, travellers by train from Carhaix 
to Morlaix, between Sorignac and Le Cloistre, saw 
lightning follow the train over a course of six kilo- 
metres, breaking or splitting several telegraph poles. 

This feat has been observed more than once. The 
train is escorted by lightning flashes which succeed each 
other almost without cessation, and the travellers seem 
to be whirled through an ocean of flame. 

Lightning rarely strikes the carriages ; only on one 
occasion did it actually wreck one, by breaking a wheel. 
The mutilated coach, however, continued to hobble 
along until the injury was discovered. 

Generally the fluid is content to wander about the 
rails, to the great terror of the passengers who witness 
this display of rather alarming magic. It spreads itself 
over masses of iron, as for instance the roofs and 
balconies in Paris, without striking any particular point. 

The danger would be greater to a cyclist on a 
road. In the suburbs of Brussels, on July 2, 1904, a 
cyclist named Jean Ollivier, aged twenty-one years, was 
riding during a violent storm, when suddenly he was 
struck and killed on the spot. 


We shall end this description of the whims and 
caprices of lightning by a notice of the blasting of 
a German military balloon. It happened in June, 
1902. The aeronaut, whose car was steered by a sub- 
lieutenant, was held captive, and soared at a height of 
about 500 metres above the fortifications at Lechfeld, 
near Ingolstadt. All at once the aerial skiff was 
touched by an electric spark, caught fire, and began 
to descend, slowly at first, then swiftly. The aeronaut 
had the good luck to get off with a broken thigh. The 
five assistants, who worked the windlass and the tele- 
phone, also received shocks transmitted through the 
metal wires of the cable. They fell unconscious, but 
were quickly restored. This phenomenon, which is 
excessively rare, fittingly closes this odd collection of 
stories, fantastically illustrated by lightning. 

A communication from Berlin also mentions that 
the captive balloon of the battalion of aeronauts was 
struck by lightning on the exercise ground at Senne. 
Two under-officers and a private were wounded by the 



UNTIL comparatively recent times, as we have seen, 
all that was known about thunderstorms was that 
they occurred pretty well all over the world, and 
generally in either spring or summer. 

While efforts were being made on our old continent 
to establish by long and ingenious dissertations the 
exact degrees of relationship between lightning and the 
sparks given out by machines, in America practical 
experiments were being set about towards solving the 
problems of electricity. 

Franklin it was who hit upon the idea of extracting 
electricity from the clouds for the purpose of investi- 

This man of immortal genius, who by his achieve- 
ments in science, his noble character, and his devotion 
to his country, has won the admiration and gratitude 
of posterity, was of humble origin. 

The son of a soap manufacturer in a small way of 
business, Benjamin Franklin was born at Boston in 



1706. His parents had intended him to go in for 
science. He was successively an apprentice to a candle 
manufacturer, a journeyman printer, the head of a big 
printing firm in Philadelphia, deputy to Congress, an 
ambassador, and finally President of the Assembly of 
the States of Pennsylvania. His political record was a 
great one. No one ever rendered greater services to 
his country than the diplomatist who signed the peace 
of 1783, and insured the independence of the United 

It was towards the age of forty that Franklin began 
his study of electricity. Here is his own account of 
the memorable experiments to which he owed the 
greater part of his immense fame : 

" In 1746 I met at Boston a certain Dr. Spence, 
who came from Scotland. He performed some electrical 
experiments before me. They were not very perfect, 
as he was not a man of great ability ; but as the subject 
was new to me they surprised me and interested me in 
an equal degree. Shortly after my return to Phila- 
delphia, our librarian received as a gift from Pierre 
Collinson, a member of the Royal Society of London, 
a tube of glass, together with certain written instruc- 
tions as to the way in which it should be used for 
experiments. I seized eagerly on the chance of repro- 
ducing what I had seen done at Boston, and with 
practice I acquired a great facility in performing the 



experiments indicated to us from England and in de- 
vising other ones. I say ' with practice,' because many 
people came to my house to witness these marvels.'" 

After making several discoveries in regard to elec- 
tricity, Franklin took it into his head to extract the 
fluid direct from the clouds. He had established 
the fact that a stem of pointed metal, placed at a 
great height on the summit of a building, for in- 
stance served as an attraction to lightning and guided 
it into the way prepared for it. He had been looking 
eagerly to the erection of a clock-tower which was 
being built at this time at Philadelphia ; but, tired of 
waiting and anxious to carry out experiments which 
should solve all doubts, he had recourse to a more 
expeditious instrument, and one, as events proved, not 
less efficacious, for getting into touch with the region 
of thunder a kite such as children play with. 

He prepared two sticks in the form of a cross, with 
a silk handkerchief stretched upon them, and with a 
string attached of suitable length, and set forth on his 
mission the first time there was a storm. He was 
accompanied only by his son. Fearing the ridicule that 
is showered upon failure, he did not take any one else 
into his confidence. The kite was set flying. A cloud 
which looked promising passed without result. Others 
followed, and the excitement with which they were 
awaited can be imagined. 


At first there was no spark and no sign of elec- 
tricity. Presently some filaments of the string began to 
move, as though they had been pushed out, and a slight 
rustling could be heard. Franklin now touched the end 
of the string with his finger, and instantly a spark was 
given out, followed quickly by others. Thus for the 
first time the genius of man may be said to have come 
to grips with lightning, and begun to learn the secret 
of its existence. 

This experiment took place in June, 1752, and 
made an immense sensation throughout the world, and 
was repeated in other countries, always with the same 

A French magistrate, named de Romas, making 
use of Franklin's idea as soon as it was known in 
France, took it into his head to use a kite with raised 
cross-bars, and in June, 1753, before the full results of 
Franklin's experiments were made public, secured still 
more remarkable signs of electricity, having inserted a 
thread of metal throughout the whole length of the 
string, which was 260 metres. Later, in 1757, de Romas 
repeating his experiments during a storm, secured sparks 
of a surprising size. " Imagine before you," he said, 
" lances of fire nine or ten feet in length and an inch 
thick, and making as much noise as pistol shots. In 
less than an hour I had certainly thirty lances of this 
length, without reckoning a thousand shorter ones of 


seven feet and under." Numbers of people, ladies 
among them, were present at these experiments. They 
were not without danger, as may be imagined; de 
Romas was once knocked over by an unusually heavy 
discharge, but without being seriously hurt. 

Franklin was the first to turn his experiments to 
practical account, attaching lightning-conductors to 
public and private buildings for their protection, and 
achieving marvellous results ; the lightning being caught 
by the metallic stem and following it obediently into 
the ground. 

From this time, lightning-conductors came into 
almost universal use, and their value was not long 
in being generally recognized. Curiously enough, 
France, which had been ahead of all other countries 
in the study of electricity, was not one of the earliest 
to go in for lightning-conductors. There were, indeed, 
signs of strong hostility to their introduction. It was 
held even that they went against the designs of Provi- 
dence. In 1766, the Abbe Poncelet, in his work 
entitled " La Nature dans la formation du tonnerre et 
la reproduction des etres vivants," in which he sets out 
to demonstrate that the force which produces lightning 
is the same as that which causes the earth to fructify, 
makes a strong protest against the construction of 

In 1782, nevertheless, at the reiterated request of 


Le Roi, a member of the Academic des Sciences, and 
friend and admirer of Franklin, the Louvre was 
endowed with the first lightning-conductor put up 
on a public building in France. Soon afterwards they 
became common. 

In 1784 the Academic des Sciences drew up the first 
set of rules for the construction of lightning-conductors. 
It was revised and corrected in 1823, in accordance 
with the various improvements that had been introduced 
up till then, and it has been further added to in 1854, 
1867, and 1903. These instructions point out that the 
most important metallic portions of the building should 
be placed in communication with the conductor, and 
this should sink into a well. Conductors that are not 
perfectly constructed are a source of danger, instead 
of being a protection, for the electric current is apt, 
instead of running down into the earth, to make for 
any kind of metallic substance, and cause great havoc. 

The conductor ought really to communicate with a 
large body of water a body of water of greater extent 
than the storm cloud from which the lightning comes. 
When the flow is insufficient, the water itself is apt 
to become electrically charged. It is dangerous to 
bury the conductor in merely damp soil ; first, because 
one generally does not know whether there is enough 
of this soil ; secondly, because one cannot be sure that 
the humidity will be sufficient at times of great drought 


the very times when storms are most to be feared. 
Failing a river or great pond, the conductor should 
be put into wells issuing or having their source in 
inexhaustible supplies of water deep down in the 

In his table of statistics showing the number of 
cases in which lightning has struck either lightning- 
conductors, or buildings, or ships furnished with con- 
ductors, Quebelet gives a hundred and sixty-eight 
cases in which the conductor has been struck, and in 
only twenty-seven instances of these (one-sixth of the 
whole) have the conductors, from some grave flaw in 
their construction, failed to fulfil their office. These 
results are the best proof possible of the efficacy of 
conductors, and the best answer to those who decry 

The area of protection covered by the conductor is 
not so great as is generally supposed. It is limited to 
a distance about three or four times the length of the 
conductor above the roof. Thus a conductor standing 
out five yards will protect an area stretching only about 
fifteen or twenty yards away. This depends also to 
some extent upon the nature of the place and the 
materials of which the house is constructed. 

Buildings are often struck by lightning because the 
number of conductors has been insufficient for the extent 
of the edifice to be protected. 


To remedy this defect, conductors are made with 
a number of separate stems veritable wire traps in 
which to catch the lightning. This system, the 
invention of a Belgian physicist, M. Melsens, decreases 
considerably the risks of destruction, and is much more 
economical than the erection of a number of separate 

A conductor of this kind has been installed on the 
Hotel de Ville at Brussels, which has been well pro- 
tected from lightning ever since, whereas previously 
this building had been struck by lightning several 
times in spite of the single conductors with which it 
was supplied. The metallic trellis is in communication 
with the sewers. 

The slaughter-houses of La Villette, the Hotel 
Evigne", and other buildings in Paris, are provided with 
similar defences. 

The Eiffel Tower boasts several such multiplex 
conductors. It has often been struck by lightning, but 
no one who has happened to be up it at the time has 
ever suffered any damage therefrom. The lightning 
strikes the conductor sometimes from out the actual 
cloud curious photographs have been taken of this. 
The Eiffel Tower is in itself a gigantic lightning- 

Portable conductors have been invented from time 
to time silk umbrellas without iron ribs, and clothes 


of indiarubber and such-like ; but they have all been 
childish things. 

Without allowing one's self to get lightning, so to 
speak, on the brain, it is well to take certain pre- 
cautions during a storm. 

The first and principal one is not to get under 
a tree. 

The second is to give a wide berth to telegraph 
posts, so as to avoid contact with the sparks that may 
issue from them. 

Movements of the air having the effect of preparing 
an excellent route for the fluid, it is well not to run in 
a storm. It is well also not to ring a bell. 

It is well, also, to avoid being in the neighbourhood 
of animals, in view of their attraction for lightning. 

In houses, doors and windows should be closed in 
order to avoid draughts. It is well to keep away from 
the chimney, too, as well as from metallic objects. 

But lightning always has its caprices. It is this 
that makes its study so interesting. 



IN this last chapter I would like to group together a 
series of instances of pictures made by lightning, some 
of them very curious and attributed, it would seem, to 
flashes of a special character, which we may perhaps 
term Ceraunic Rays, from Keraunos, lightning. These 
instances are of great variety, and doubtless admit of 
many different explanations. Here, then, is a selection 
worth looking into. 

In this case, as in so many others, it is extremely 
difficult to get at the exact truth. 

Generally speaking, it is from the newspapers that 
we get the facts more or less accurately observed, 
more or less accurately recorded. I have made great 
efforts to inform myself personally as to the incidents 
whenever this has been practicable. 

The Petit Marseillais of June 18, 1896, published 
the following : 

" A correspondent writes to us from Pertius, 
June 17 : 

"'In the course of the storm here yesterday, two 


day-labourers of our town, Jean Sasier and Joseph 
Elisson, took refuge in a cabin constructed of reeds. 
They were standing at the entrance when they were 
struck by lightning and thrown violently to the ground. 
Elisson, who was not much hurt, soon recovered his 
senses and called for help. People ran up at once 
and carried the two men to where they live, where all 
necessary attention was given to them. 

"'Sasier's condition, though serious enough by reason 
of a burn on his right side, is not causing anxiety. The 
curious part of the incident is the effect the electric 
fluid has produced upon Elisson. The lightning cut 
open one of his boots and tore his trousers; but 
over and above this, like a tattooer making use of 
photography, it reproduced admirably on the artisan's 
body a representation of a pine tree, of a poplar, and 
of the handle of his watch. It is an undoubted case of 
photography through opaque materials; most luckily 
the sensitive plate Elisson's body merely took the 
impression and received no injury.'' 1 '' 

On reading this narrative, I wrote to the Mayor of 
the Commune of Pertius to ask him for confirmation 
of it, and for a photograph, if possible, of the picture 
on Elisson's body. By a fortunate circumstance, the 
Mayor happened to be the doctor who had attended 
the victim. Here is his reply : 

" M. Joseph Elisson, of Pertius, aged about 


thirty-eight, was struck by lightning on June 17. 
Called to attend to him at about two in the afternoon, 
I found some superficial burns forming a trail, which 
began near the teat of his left breast, at the level of 
his waistcoat pocket, in which there was a watch (which 
had not stopped), and went down towards the navel, 
then turned boldly to the right towards the iliac 
spine and down the outer side of his right leg as 
far as the ankle, at the level of which his boot, made 
of strong leather, had been split open. 

"To the right, a little outside the vertical line 
passing the teat, there was imprinted in vivid red the 
red of the burn a picture of a tree. The foot of it 
was on a level with the edge of the ribs, the top went 
slightly above the teat. This picture was absolutely 
vertical. Its outlines stood out very distinctly from 
the white skin. It was composed of bold, clearly 
defined lines, about a demimillimetre in width. 
Neither waistcoat nor shirt were burnt or marked in 
any way to correspond with it. Other representations 
of tree branches were reproduced higher up on the 
breast, but not so distinctly in the midst of a uniform 
redness. Not having by me my camera, I made a 
sketch of the tree, which was marvellously distinct, 
leaving the taking of a photograph until next day. 
Next day, when I returned with my camera, the picture 
was still clearly visible, but it had faded a good deal, 



lost in the colour of the skin, and no longer to be 
reproduced by photography. I regretted bitterly not 
having taken it the day before. I regret this all the 
more now that you have done me the honour of writing 
to me on the subject, and I am glad to be able to 
send you my sketch of the picture, which is correct 
as to dimensions, and which represents what I saw as 
accurately as I could make it. 


Here is a facsimile of the sketch 
enclosed by the doctor. 

It is somewhat like the shape of 
a poplar. There is nothing to suggest 
that we have here a case of swollen 
veins, or arteries made conspicuous by 
a flow of blood, nor of a tree-like form 
due to blood vessels, in which the 
blood has taken on a more or less 
marked aspect. On the other hand, 
it is certainly not much easier to 
recognize in it a photograph of a 
more or less distant tree. In this 
state of uncertainty on the subject, I 
wrote again to Dr. Tournatoire, and 
begged of him to go to the scene of the incident and 
to make a plan of the ground, and take a photograph 
of the view. Here is the doctor's reply : 


"This plan can be reproduced by a few typo- 
graphical lines in such a way as to show clearly how 
things happened 

"The square represents the cabin in which the 
two workmen took refuge. They were sitting almost 
opposite each other on the seats marked A and B. 
There is a flash of lightning. One of the men is 
knocked over, and bears on his right side a picture of 
the poplar P, which stands one hundred metres away, 
and is visible by A through the door O, of which the 
width is one metre. Behind this poplar stands a big 
pine, a branch of which is also depicted on the man's 
body. By this same stroke of lightning the other 
worker, seated at B, is thrown out of the cabin three 
metres by an opening D, about forty centimetres wide. 
The two men are alive, and have come out of it with a 
few days 1 rest. They saw nothing, heard nothing, and 
can remember nothing." 

In the photographs taken by Dr. Tournatoire it is 
not clear which is the tree, for the poplar, P, does not 
stand out alone. As the cabin stands under the shade 


of a pine tree, one is disposed to ask whether the 
lightning did not strike this pine? But judging by 
the position of the trees relatively to the man struck, 
the most likely hypothesis is that the electric discharge 
came from the point P towards A, and that the poplar 
as well as the adjacent pine formed a sort of screen, 
and reproduced their reflection by the agency of some 
unknown constituent of these Ceraunic Rays, which 
enable them to photograph things in this way through 
clothes on to the human body. 

This assuredly is a more extraordinary effect than 
those obtained by the cathodic rays or anti-cathodic 
rays, of which science seems equally unable to give any 

Let us proceed with our studies. It is impor- 
tant above all never to take the newspaper nar- 
ratives on trust without verification. In the month 
of June, 1897, the following appeared in the news- 
papers : 

" PHOTOGRAPHIC LIGHTNING. A chasseur of the 15th 
battalion, in barracks at Remiremont, was struck by 
lightning. He was standing upon a mound not far 
from a grove of pines, in the midst of ferns. Curious 
to relate, on the occasion of recording the fact of the 
man's being dead, it was discovered that his body 
was covered with punctures imprinted on it by the 
lightning, and representing the nature and aspect of 


the branches and plants all round him at the time when 
he was struck." 

I wrote at once to the chef de bataillon for a precise 
confirmation of this, and received the following reply: 

" M. le Commandant Joppe, commanding officer of 
the 15th Battalion of Chasseurs, has handed me your 
letter of June 14th, and asked me to reply to it. 

" It is the case that a chasseur of the battalion was 
struck by lightning on the afternoon of June 4, but it 
is quite untrue that there was found on his body a 
photograph of the trees adjoining the spot of the 
accident. The man's clothes were not affected in any 
way, and the only traces left by the passage of the 
lightning, consisted in some slight irregularly shaped 
burns on the upper part of the hollow of the right 
temple of linear formation, save for one circular burn 
measuring from three to four millimetres in diameter, 
and depressing the skin into the shape of a saucer. 
There was no lesion on the whole surface of the body. 

"Surgeon-Major 15th Battalion of Chasseurs." 

This reply was covered by a note which ran as 
follows : 

"I thought it desirable that the reply to your 
letter of the 14th inst. should be made by the surgeon- 


major of my battalion in order that it might be the 
more scientifically accurate and authoritative. 


" Chef de bataillon brevete, 

" Commanding Officer of the 15th Battalion of the 
Chasseurs des Vosges." 

Clearly, the student of natural phenomena cannot 
take too many precautions. And yet ... an officer 
of high rank confided to me recently that "surgeon- 
majors hardly ever take the trouble to examine bodies 
thoroughly," and that it is possible that in this case 
" the examination may have been very superficial." If 
this be a general rule, there must have been an exception 
here, as also in the fifth case, to which we shall be 
coming just now. 

The problem is far from being solved, and we can 
but seek to study it as set forth in a number of 
instances. Here is a third case : 

On Sunday, August 23, 1903, a certain number of 
riflemen were practising at the Charbonnieres range, 
near the village of Le Pont, in the valley of Lalle Joux 
(Canton de Vaud, Suisse), five targets out of six were in 
use. The targets, distant 300 metres from the firing- 
line, are placed to the side of a grove of pines. Between 
stretches an undulating rock-strewn meadow-land. 
Only the butts are provided with a lightning-conductor, 


and in it are five markers. There are six telephone 
wires along- the line qfjlre; they come as far as the 
stand and go down to within about 50 centimetres of 
the scorers' seats. Each target has its own telephone bell. 

The weather was not stormy, though the sky was 
somewhat overcast. Firing was going on. At about 
3.30 there was a clap of thunder, and lightning struck 
the electric wires. In the stand twenty-eight men, 
riflemen, scorers, and spectators, are thrown to the 
ground in every direction and in every position. Some 
are quite inert, apparently dead; others, looking as 
though they were asphyxiated, give out a painful 
rattling noise from their throats. At the bar, to the 
side of the stand, no one felt anything it was not 
even noticed that there had been a violent stroke of 
lightning. A kilometre away the band, which had 
been giving a concert in front of the Hotel de la 
Triute on the bridge, continued to play. Presently a 
man reaches them with the report that twenty of the 
riflemen have been killed. Consternation becomes 
general, and relief parties are organized. Fortunately 
the damage done was much less than was supposed. 

Let us describe the men actually engaged in firing, 
and placed in a line, A, B, C, D, and E, their scorers 
are behind them. 

Let us give our attention, first, to these men and 
their scorers. Presently we shall come to the others 



awaiting their turn, then to the spectators, and finally 
to the markers at the targets. 

The men were firing, either kneeling or lying. 

A remained in position, kneeling "like a statue, 1 ' 
unable to move. He turned right over as soon as he 
was touched. Killed. 

B had a pine tree depicted on his breast upside 
down, its roots indicated by some outlines up at the 
top ; the picture was of a brownish rather than a 
blueish shade. It was suggested that it resembled a 
pine, because of a pine being ten metres away from the 
stand, but really it was more like a branch of fern. 

C felt hardly anything apart from a certain heavi- 
ness in his limbs when picking himself up. 

D had some slight burns, which were healed within 
two or three days. 

E was holding his rifle with the barrel vertically. 
He found himself about 2J metres from his position on 
the ground, with a stone in his hands; his rifle had 
been bent in two below the trigger. 

A's scorer held the pear-shaped handle of the 
electric bell between his fingers, his elbows upon the 
table. Saw nothing, heard nothing. Felt himself 
suddenly bent up double, his face buried in the 
gravel; lost consciousness while he was being carried 
away; when he came to himself again he began to 


ramble in his speech ; his pencil was broken lengthwise 
into four pieces. The wire of his bell had been 
electrified. By way of wound, he had a picture of a 
pine branch on his back ; water issued from it as from 
a blister ; there were no traces of blood. The picture 
disappeared at the end of two days. For a certain 
time the young man had a pain in his loins; he still 
limps somewhat; probably what he now suffers from 
is sciatic lumbago, the result of partial and temporary 

B's scorer had only some insignificant burns. 

C's scorer only came to himself twenty minutes later 
as the result of artificial respiration. At the moment 
of the lightning he was pressing the electric button 
with his thumb in order to give the signal, "Change 
the target ; " he had a small hole in his thumb. This 
burn bled later, and the wound took four weeks to 
heal. He had also some burns on his legs. 

D's scorer was holding the handle of the bell against 
his left cheek, on a level with his eye. The handle, 
made of wood, burst. The sight of his left eye is still 
affected, being very weak the retina was probably 
torn away. The day after the accident, the young 
man's face became all inflamed, especially the part 
round the eyes. These were quite hidden. This 
inflammation, of a bluish tint, is due to the dilation 
of the small veins or of the capillaries. 


Dr. Yersin, who attended several of the victims, 
attributes this dilation to a paralysis of the vasomotor 
nerves, " which would also explain the tree-like form of 
the pictures seen upon the skin" and the transudation (?) 
of water across the small blood-vessels. 

E's scorer had time to see the men on his left fall, 
in a green or violet 'light. He had heard a general 
death-rattle-like chorus, " A666 " then, before he 
could make out what was happening, he found himself 
driven up against the wall of the stand. He had a 
wound under his feet; his thumb torn also, probably 
in trying to hold himself up against the wall. 

Behind the scorers were a dozen other riflemen and 
some spectators. To the left the electric current left 
intact the rifles standing on the rack. Quite near this, 
a man awaiting his turn fell, clinging on to the neck of 
one of his comrades, also struck. Later he found his 
purse in the middle of the stand. 

In the case of several of the spectators, the burns 
were to be found in separate sores. One had his hair 
burnt on one spot of about the size of a five franc 
piece ; others, who had burns upon their feet and legs, 
are under the impression they saw a small blue flame at 
the tips of their shoes. 

The general feeling was at first merely that of 
stupefaction. Terror did not come until afterwards. 
"Those who did not lose all consciousness were half 

stunned." A young boy was noticed jammed up 
against the wall, incapable of moving, but bewailing 
his inability to get to his father, who lay dead upon 
the ground. Two men took flight without throwing 
aside their guns ; another ran as far as the village, and 
some hours afterwards he was found asleep in a house 
" to which there was nothing to take him." One young 
spectator, a stranger to the neighbourhood, was seized 
with a partial paralysis of the brain; he could not 
keep his balance when walking, and when questioned 
he would recite the names of stations on a Swiss 
railway. He is better now. 

This event will not be soon forgotten in the Joux 
valley. But Dr. Yersin's explanation of the Ceraunic 
pictures does not seem to me to be justified. 

Here is a fourth instance, given me long ago by one 
of the most learned physicists of last century, Hoin, of 
the Institute. 

"I am going to tell you," he wrote to me in July, 
1866, " of a stroke of lightning which was very curious 
in its effects. It occurred at midday on June 27, at 
Bergheim, a village situated to the north of Logelbach 
at the foot of the Vosges. It struck two travellers who 
had taken refuge under the tree and knocked them over 
senseless one of them was lifted to a height of more 
than a yard and thrown upon his back. It was thought 
they must be dead, but thanks to the attention given 


to them at once, they were brought to themselves, and 
they are now out of danger. But here is the strange 
feature of the accident. Both travellers have on their 
backs, extending down to their thighs, the imprint, as 
though by photography > of the leaves of a lime tree ; 
according to the statement of the Mayor, M. Radat, 
the most skilful draughtsman could not have done it 
better.' 1 '' 

Here is a fifth instance which I find among my 
records. The incident happened at Chambery, May 29, 

In the course of a violent storm, a soldier of the 
47th Regiment was struck by lightning underneath a 
chestnut tree. In a memorandum drawn up on June 
18 by a learned doctor of Chambery, an eyewitness of 
the occurrence, the following facts are recorded : 

" The man who was killed had been standing in the 
centre of a group of eight soldiers, who had their guns 
in their hands, without bayonets. Struck in the region 
of the heart, he did not succumb for about a quarter of 
an hour, after saying a few words. The corpse bore an 
oval plate, so to speak, of about 13 to 14 centimetres 
in length, by 4 to 5 in width, occupying largely the 
precordial region, and presenting the parchment-like 
aspect of a vesicatory that had become rapidly dried 
up. The clothes were neither torn nor burnt. 

" Two hours after his death an examination of the 


body resulted in the discovery of a phenomenon already 
recorded by several observers the reproduction of 
photo-electric pictures. 

"On the right shoulder were three bunches of 
leaves of a more or less deep reddish violet hue, 
reproduced minutely with the most absolute photo- 
graphic precision. The first, situated on the lower part 
of the inside of the forearm, represented a long branch 
of leaves like those of a chestnut tree; the second, which 
seemed to be formed by two or three such branches 
twisted together, was in the middle of the outside of 
the arm ; and the third, in the middle of the shoulder, 
larger and rounder, showed only some leaves and small 
branches at the top and at the borders, the centre 
presenting a red stain diminishing towards the circum- 
ference. The body, when dissected, bore no sign of 
any interior lesion." 

Here is a sixth instance : 

In June, 1869, a Trappist was struck by lightning at 
the monastery of Scourmant, near Chimay in Belgium. 
It was the afternoon, and the monks were busy mowing. 
The storm coming along obliged them to seek shelter. 
One of them, who was following the mowing machine 
worked by two horses, directed it towards an iron-work 
enclosure, and knelt down beside this trellis. There 
was a terrible thunder-clap, the horses bolted in their 
fright, and the monk remained with his face to the 


ground. The others, who saw him fall, ran up to his 
assistance, only to find him dead. The medical 
attendant of the monastery, sent for at once, dis- 
covered on the body two large and deep burns, 
identical in shape, and placed symmetrically to each 
side of the breast; he pointed out also to those who 
were present a white spot under the left armpit, 
presenting a very distinct picture of the trunk of a tree 
with branches on it. 

Out of these six cases, five may be taken as fully 

Dr. Lebigne, Mayor of Nibelle (Loiret), published 
the following narrative in the Moniteur of September 7, 

"On Sunday, September 4, 1864, at about 10.30 
a.m., three men were busy gathering pears about 200 
metres out of Nibelle, when the pear tree was struck by 
lightning, and was distorted from top to bottom in the 
form of a screw ; the lightning carried away the bark 
and about a centimetre of the wood beneath; then 
quitting the tree, it struck the head of one of the 
workmen, who was eating some bread at the time, and 
killed him, as well as a dog by his side. The head was 
burnt behind from top to bottom and was impregnated 
with a strong smell of sulphur. 

"The two other workmen who were on the tree were 
thrown to the ground, and remained for some time 


senseless. When they came to themselves they could 
not move their legs. They were taken to their homes, 
and it was found that both had been in contact with 
the electric fluid. The astonishing thing about them 
is, that one of them had the branches and leaves of the 
pear tree clearly imprinted on his breast as though by 
daguerreotype. The terrible photographer had been 
merciful, however, for that evening both the men were 
up again and able to walk." 

The Comptes rendus of the Academic des Sciences 
for the year 1843 (xvi. p. 1328) records that in July, 
1841, in the department of Indre-et-Loire, a magistrate 
and a miller's boy were struck by lightning in the 
vicinity of a poplar. It was found that both of them 
had on their breasts stains exactly like the leaves of a 
poplar. These marks, in the case of the magistrate, 
went away gradually as the blood began to circulate 
again. In the case of the boy, who was killed on the 
spot, they had faded somewhat by the day after, when 
decomposition had begun to set in. 

A propos of this case, very similar to those preceding, 
Arago recalled the fact that in 1786 Leroy, a member 
of the Academic des Sciences, declared that Franklin 
had several times told him how a man who was standing 
at a door during a storm had seen a tree struck by 
lightning opposite him, and that a representation of 
this tree was found imprinted upon his breast. Arago 


recalled, too, in this connection a report made to the 
old Academy in August 2, 1786, by Bossuet and Leroy, 
in which there was question of a man killed by lightning 
on May 10, 1585, in the Collegiate School of Riom in 
Auvergne; in this case the electric fluid had entered 
by the heel and gone out by the head, leaving on the 
body singular marks, described in the report. It was 
thought that the lightning on its way, through having 
forced the blood into all the vessels in the skin, must 
have made all the ramifications of these vessels sensitive 
to impressions from without. Extraordinary though 
this may appear, they go on to say, it is not new; 
Pere Beccaria cites a similar case ; and Franklin's case 
is cited here also as analogous. Besile, the author of 
the record of the Riom case, " did not hesitate," he tells 
us, " to attribute the effect to an eruption of the blood 
in the vessels of the skin, producing a result similar to 
that of an injection.' 1 The statement in the Comptes 
rendus is entitled " Strange appearance of Ecchymoses 
formed by lightning upon the skin of two persons." 

That is just the question. Was there in these 
pictures nothing but ecchymoses infiltrations of the 
blood into the cellular tissue? Perhaps that may be 
so in some cases, but not in all. Photography, the 
photo-electric pictures produced in the laboratories of 
physicists, Moses's figures (?), the Lichtenberg flowers, 
cathodic rays, Rontgen rays, radiography all these 


things open new horizons for us. And even if we do 
not find any explanation satisfactory, we should not be 
justified in accepting the first offered to us as being so, 
if in fact it be not. 

Here are four interesting cases recorded by Poey 
in his "Relation Historique des images photo-elec- 
triques de la foudre." 

Mme. Morosa, of Lugano, seated near a window 
during a storm, experienced a shock from which she is 
not stated to have suffered any ill effects ; but a flower, 
which had stood in the route of the electric current, 
was found perfectly drawn on her leg, and this picture 
lasted the rest of her days. 

In August, 1853, a young girl in the United States 
of America was standing at a window facing a nut 
tree at the moment of a dazzling flash of lightning ; a 
complete picture of the tree was reproduced on her 

In September, 1857, a peasant woman of Seine-et- 
Marne, who was minding a cow, was struck by light- 
ning under a tree. The cow was killed, and the woman 
was thrown on the ground insensible. She was, how- 
ever, soon revived. In loosening her clothes to attend 
to her, the people who came to her assistance found 
perfectly reproduced on her breast a picture of the cow. 

On August 16, I860, a mill at Lappion (Aisne), 
belonging to M. Carlier, was struck by lightning. On 


the back of a woman of forty-four, who was also 
struck, the lightning left a reproduction (of a reddish 
hue) of a tree trunk, branches, foliage, and all. Her 
clothes bore no trace of the passage of the lightning. 

Unless we are to suppose that all these have been 
inaccurately observed, it seems to me that we must 
admit that there is something else besides ecchymoses, 
something else besides the workings of veins and 
arteries in these pictures wrought by lightning. 

Certain of these tree-like pictures resemble the 
patterns we get in photographing electrical discharges 
upon sensitized plates. Might they not be produced 
by this discharge upon the surface of the body or by 
the emission of electricity from the body struck ? 

The pictures we shall now hear of, to be dis- 
tinguished from those already dealt with, are easier to 
explain, and about their genuineness there can be no 

In the summer of 1865, a doctor from the neigh- 
bourhood of Vienna, Dr. Derendinger, was returning 
home by train. On getting out at the station he 
found that he had not got his purse on him some one 
probably had stolen it. 

This purse was made of tortoise-shell, and had on 
one side of it a steel plate marked with the doctor's 
monogram two D's intermingled. 

Some time after, the doctor was called to attend to 


a stranger who had been found lying insensible under 
a tree, having been struck by lightning. The first 
thing that he noticed on examining the man's body 
was that on his thigh there was a reproduction, as 
though by photography, of his own monogram. His 
astonishment may be imagined. He succeeded in re- 
viving the stranger, who was taken to a hospital. 
The doctor remarked that in his clothes his lost 
tortoise-shell purse would probably be found. So it 
proved. The individual struck by lightning was the 
thief. The electric fluid had been attracted by the 
steel plate, and had imprinted the monogram upon 
the man's body. 

In this case we are set thinking of electro-metal- 
lurgy, all the more because there are a number of other 
instances which certainly belong to this category. 
Thus, for instance, on July 25, 1868, at Nantes, a 
stranger near the Pont de TErdre, on the Quai Fles- 
selles, was enveloped by a flash of lightning, but pro- 
ceeded on his way without experiencing any ill effects. 
He had on him a purse containing two pieces of silver 
in one compartment and a ten-franc piece in gold in 
another. On taking out his purse he found that a 
coating of silver taken from one of the silver pieces 
a franc had been transferred to both sides of the ten- 
franc piece. The franc, slightly thinner, especially 
over the moustache of Napoleon III., was in parts 


slightly bluish. This transference of the silver on to 
gold was made through the skin of the partition of the 
compartments ! * 

Another case. In Gilbert's " Annalen der Physik " 
(1817) we read that a flash of lightning struck the 
tower of a chapel near Dresden and took the gilt off 
the framework of the clock and transferred it to the 
leaden runs of the window-panes in such a way as to 
leave no sign of how these had been gilded. 

In these cases the analogy with galvano electro- 
metallurgy is evident. But in the earlier cases this 
was not so ; the trees contained no metallic element. 
It was not a case of transference. They seem to have 
been photographed by the ceraunic rays. 

On October 9, 1836, a young man was killed by 
lightning. The corpse bore in the middle of the right 
shoulder six rings of flesh-colour, which seemed the 
more distinct in that 'the rest of the man's own skin 
was very dark. These rings, overlapping each other, 
were of different sizes, corresponding exactly with those 
of the gold coins which he had on him on the right 
side of his belt, as the public official who examined his 
body and all the witnesses were able to testify. 

This makes us think of radiography. 

A correspondent of Poey, the astronomer, told him 
that he had known a Trinidad lady who had been 
* Academic des Sciences, Aout 3, 1868. 


struck by lightning in her youth and on whose stomach 
the lightning had imprinted a metallic comb which she 
carried in her apron. 

In these instances there was some kind of contact 
of the objects with the persons struck. Here are others 
in which the objects reproduced are further removed, 
but still of metallic substance and still reminding us 
therefore of electro-metallurgy. 

In September, 1825, the brigantine Le Buon-Servo, 
at anchor in the Bay of Armiro, was struck by light- 
ning. A sailor seated at the foot of the mizzen-mast 
was killed. On his back was found a light yellow and 
black mark, beginning at his neck and going down to 
his loins, where there was discovered an exact repro- 
duction, in facsimile, of a horseshoe nailed to the mast. 

The mizzen-mast of another brigantine was struck 
by lightning in the roadstead of Zaube. Under the 
left breast of a sailor who was killed was found im- 
printed the number 44, which his mates all declared 
was not there before. These two figures, large and 
well formed, with a full stop between them, were 
identical with the same numbers in metal affixed to the 
rigging of the ship, and placed between the mast and 
the sailor's bunk, in which he was lying asleep when 

May it not have been a tattoo-mark in spite of 
what his companions declared ? 


M. Jose Maria Dau, of Havana, records that in 
1838, in the province of Candaleria, in Cuba, there was 
found on the right ear and on the right side of the 
neck of a young man struck by lightning, the repro- 
duction of a horseshoe, which had been nailed up at a 
short distance from him against a window. 

These various records lead us to the reflection : 
first, that ceraunography should form a new branch 
of physics, well meriting study ; secondly, that the 
facts set forth are sufficiently inverse in their nature to 
show us that we have before us several quite distinct 
specimens of phenomena. 

However, these matters have been a subject for 
study long before our day. 

A priest, P. Lamy, of the Congregation of Saint 
Maur, published in 1696 an excellent little work,* in- 
formed by the most lucid common sense upon the 
curious effects of lightning then a text for the most 
superstitious commentaries. Voltaire could not have 
reasoned the thing out better. He deals with two very 
extraordinary cases among others. 

The first had for scene the Abbey of Saint Medard, 
at Soissons, on April 26, 1676. A flash of lightning 
struck the tower of the abbey, went into the clock, 
penetrated a wall eight feet thick, by a hole conducting 

* " Conjectures physiques sur les plus extraordinaires effeta du 
Tonnerre." Paris, MDCXCVI. 


an iron rod a Taiguille de cadran, detached two planks, 
four feet high, and threw them to the extreme end of 
the dormitory, followed a brass wire stretched along the 
whole length of the wall, setting fire to it and spreading 
it out like a ribbon painted to represent a furrow of 
flames. Here is the author's own description : 

"The most surprising effect, and one which has 
aroused the curiosity of an immense number of people, 
is a kind of frieze of all kinds of colours extending 
along the wall of the dormitory and just above the 

"The depth of this frieze is about two feet; its 
length is almost equal to that of the dormitory ; the 
designs upon it are of flames darting up and down from 
a kind of wide band which occupies the centre of the 
frieze throughout its length. 

" I have had a portion of this frieze copied, so as 
to give the reader an idea of it, but it must be admitted 
that it is difficult to suggest the variety of miances in 
the original. Some people declare that in the midst of 
all the colour's in the flames, faces of men may be 
descried as well as of marmosets and demons ; but those 
who are less richly endowed with imagination can see 
nothing of all this." 

On p. 274 is a copy of the design by P. Lamy. 

At this period, physicists were of the belief that 
lightning was " an exhalation of nitre and sulphur, 



acting something after the fashion of powder, and able 
to burn up or throw over everything encountered on its 
route. In this girdle traced by the lightning, the 

author sees a scattering of all the constituents of the 
brass wire, transformed into all kinds of colours due to 
the dilation of the copper, melted and vaporized over 
the width of "two feet, the colours, in which yellow 
predominates, varying according to the thickness and 
the inequalities of the "projection." 

The second case examined into by P. Lamy, was 
that of what happened in the church of Sauveur at 
Lagny, when it was struck by lightning on July 18, 
1689. This is one of the most astounding in the entire 
history of the subject. Let us see what our author has 
to tell us : 

"If we were to look for some excuse for the strange- 
ness and diversity of the people's sayings and doings in 
connection with the Lagny case of lightning, we should 

assuredly find it in the extraordinary nature of the case 

" For what would naturally be the effect upon minds 
accustomed to see mysteries in the most transparently 
natural events, minds whose philosophy never goes 
beyond the senses, when they learn 

" 1. That the lightning had not only descended 
upon the clock-tower of the church, and carried off the 
slates from its roof, but had struck and overthrown 
nearly fifty persons inside the edifice, and wrought great 
havoc on the high altar. 

" 2. That it knocked over and broke the pedestal on 
which the figure of Christ was raised to the level of the 
altar-screen, though this figure remained miraculously 
suspended in the same place for this is what is 

"3. That it carried off the curtain covering the 
panels of the altar and threw it to the ground without 
breaking or melting any of its rings, which were made 
only of copper, and without displacing the rod above 
the ring-bolts on which they hung. 

" 4. That it upset the oil-lamp burning before the 
high altar. 

" 5. That it broke into two pieces the stone upon 
which the priest consecrates the Host. 

" 6. That it tore into four pieces the card on which 
the canon of the Mass was printed. 


" 7. That it tore the altar-cloth and the cloth which 
was over it both of them in an extraordinary way, 
namely, in the form of a cross of St. Anthony. 

" 8. That the high altar was seen to be burning. 

" 9. That it burnt a part of the communion-cloth 
and of the tabernacle, upon which it formed several 
black waves. 

" 10. Finally that it imprinted upon the altar- 
cloth the sacred words of the consecration, beginning 
with Qui pridie quam pateretur, and going down to 
Hcec quotiescumque feceretis in mei memoriam facietw, 
inclusive; only omitting those which are usually set 
forth in special characters, namely, Hoc est Corpus 
meum , et Hie est Sanguis meus. 

" What, I repeat, can you expect unphilosophical 
minds to make of so astonishing an affair as this ? 
How account for the choice, the discernment, and the 
mysterious preference for some words over others. 
Which shall we consider the privileged words those 
taken or those left ? What is one to think of the 
extraordinary way in which the figure of the Saviour 
was left hanging ? And of that strange imprint of the 
cross ? How resist all the thousand delusions and 
uncertainties and fears the entire thing calls forth ? 

" I wonder whether the unfortunate Balthasar, when 
his eyes beheld the terrible sight of the unknown hand 
inscribing upon the walls of his banqueting-room the 


announcement of his doom, can have been a prey to a 
greater variety of fears and tremors than those who 
witnessed or who even heard of the effects of the 
lightning at Lagny. For no doubt was felt that they 
were the outcome of supernatural forces spirits alone 
could have worked these marvels ; it was a question 
only whether they were the work of evil spirits or good. 
Some believed them to be the work of good spirits, 
deducing this from the omission of the words, Hoc est 
Corpus, etc., which they set down to a spirit of rever- 
ence for the sacred mystery. 

" Others believed them to be the work of evil spirits, 
but here again there were different theories. Some 
held that bad spirits had perpetrated these things out 
of sheer wickedness, wilfully profaning the holy objects 
and suppressing out of contempt, or some other evil 
design, the words so essential to the mystery; others 
held that mere imps had been at work, actuated more 
by mischief than sinfulness, and wishing only to give 
amusement to themselves and others by the quaintness 
of their pranks. I myself do not share any of those 

Lamy's narrative proceeds to an examination of all 
the effects recorded, which he explains in the simplest 
way in the world, without having to have recourse to 
any occult causes. He comes, finally, to the last of 
all and the most extraordinary. 

r 2 


" Not wishing to put trust in anything but my own 
eyes, I went to the church myself, and the effects of the 
lightning I saw there repaid me for the trouble. 

" I examined carefully the new imprint on the cloth. 
I found it very clear and fine, the letters well finished, 
but the ink a little indistinct, perhaps I should say 
faded. As M. le Cure de Saint-Sauveur (who was 
kind enough to show me everything) assured me that 
at the moment of the lightning the three-leaved card 
which contains the canon of the Mass lay between the 
altar-cloth and the small mat upon the stone on which 
the consecration takes place, folded in such a way that 
the printed side was next to the altar-cloth, I compared 
the characters printed by the lightning with the 
original lettering, and found that they corresponded 
exactly, except that they went from right to left, back- 
wards, so that they had to be read with the help of a 
mirror, or else through the cloth from behind. 

" I observed that the words which the lightning had 
not printed on the cloth, but had omitted, were done in 
red letters on the card, and were no more favoured nor 
ill-used than certain other marks without any signi- 
ficance also printed in red upon the card, and leaving 
no trace upon the altar-cloth. 11 

The author proceeds to explain the so-called 
mystery, ascribing it to the difference between the 
two inks the thick black ink and the thin red ink. 


He examines also into the other phenomena, explaining 
them in the same way, like the sagacious and enlightened 
observer he was. It is clear, then, that the study 
of the phenomena of lightning is no new thing, and 
that it has been followed conscientiously for many 

In the case of the canon of the Mass printed by the 
lightning at Lagny, the reproduction was by contact 
and pressure it was not a case of reproducing distant 
objects as though by photography. Here is another 
case hardly less remarkable. The narrative is from 
the pen of Isaac Casaubon, in his Adversaria : 

"On a summer's day, about 1595, while divine 
service was in progress in the Cathedral at Wells, 
two or three thunder-claps were heard, of so terrible 
a nature that the whole congregation threw themselves 
down on the ground. Lightning followed at once, but 
no one was hurt. The astonishing thing about the 
affair lies in the fact that crosses were afterwards 
found to have been imprinted upon the bodies of 
some of those present at the service. The Bishop of 
Wells assured the Bishop of Ely that his wife told 
him she had a cross thus imprinted upon her; and 
that on his being incredulous, she had shown it to 
him, and that he himself found afterwards that he, 
too, was thus adorned on his arm, if I remember 
right. Some had it on their breast, some on their 


shoulders. It is from the Bishop of Ely I have these 
facts, which he tells me are well authenticated." 

What shall we say now of the photographing of a 
landscape on the inside of the skin of sheep which had 
been struck by lightning? The record of this seems 
well authenticated. 

In 1812, near the village of Combe-Hay, four miles 
from Bath, there was a wood composed largely of oaks 
and nut trees. In the middle of it was a field, about 
fifty yards long, in which six sheep were struck dead by 
lightning. When skinned, there was discovered on 
them, on the inside of the skin, a facsimile of part 
of the adjacent landscape. These skins were exhibited 
at Bath. 

This record was communicated by James Shaw to 
the Meteorological Society of London at its session of 
March, 1857. Here are his own words : 

" I may add that the small field and its surrounding 
wood were familiar to me and my schoolmates, and that 
when the skins were shown to us we at once identified 
the local scenery so wonderfully represented."" 

Andres Poey tells us of these other curious cases : 

In the province of Sibacoa, Cuba, in August, 1828, 
lightning imprinted on the trunk of a big tree a picture 
of a bent nail, which was to be found, bent in the 
opposite direction, embedded in one of the upper 


On July 24, 1852, in a plantation at St. Vincent 
in Cuba, a palm tree was struck by lightning, and 
engraved on its dried leaves was a picture of pine trees 
which surrounded it at a distance of nearly 400 yards. 

Dr. Sestier tells us that after the 1850 meeting of 
the American Association, a person was killed by 
lightning while standing up near a whitewashed 
wall, and that his silhouette was fixed upon the 
wall in a dark colour. 

With such facts before us, we seem bound to believe 
in the existence of some kind of especial rays, ceraunic 
rays, emitted by lightning, and capable of photograph- 
ing alike on the skin of human beings, animals, and 
plants, more or less distinct pictures of objects far and 

Decidedly, we have much to learn in this as well as 
in all the other branches of knowledge. 




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